Nathan Cullen is calling for “clear and swift action” against those involved in the Ecstall River fishing controversy. In a press release May 14 the Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP issued the statement following a Terrace Standard report on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans closing their investigation without laying charges or closing loopholes to prevent a similar infraction from occurring again.
“The DFO needs to take action to penalize those involved and ensure the rules are followed by everyone, including wealthy Americans,” Cullen said.
The investigation was triggered last summer when the Komoham Lodge negotiated the use of a First Nations communal fishing licence from the Lax-Kw’alaams band. The lodge’s wealthy, high-profile U.S. guests were caught by DFO on the Ecstall River, a lower tributary of the Skeena, fishing for chinook during recreational fishing closures.
Lodge management said the excursion was scientific in nature with DFO support behind it, but DFO denied knowledge of the exercise.
“The DFO needs to be crystal clear that this will not occur again and that they will be closing loopholes that were used to bypass conservation and Indigenous access programs,” Cullen said.
“We cannot let foreign commercial interests come before protecting wild salmon stocks, especially when all other user groups and First Nations are pitching in and taking on that burden.”
Cullen says he’s sent two letters to DFO on the matter but has yet to receive a reply. He’s requesting a response that will restore confidence that conservation efforts among area residents are not in vain.
The angling community worries the incident has already set a precedent, where conservation measures can be ignored at the right price.
News of the investigation’s conclusion surfaced at a meeting for the Lower Skeena Sport Fishing Advisory Committee March 12. According to the minutes, an attending DFO officer said the file is closed, as the angling was in fact legally permitted through the Aboriginal Food Social and Ceremonial communal license.
It was noted future communal licenses could be written differently so similar incidents don’t occur in the future. But DFO did not confirm with the Terrace Standard whether the investigation is formally closed. In a vaguely-worded email a spokesperson said the matter was still in discussion on some level.
“Fishery officers from the Conservation and Protection Program continue to work with our internal and external partners to provide clarity and information regarding this situation to all concerned,” the email read.
“The objective is to ensure that a full understanding of the intent and communication requirements [of communal licences] is reached with all.”