The Lake Babine Nation (LBN) members are finally getting food fish this year, after dramatically slower sockeye harvest in the past few years.
“At the Babine fence where we count all the fish, so far, we have counted 954,895 sockeye. So that also includes some of the fish that we have harvested. So that total number is what has reached the fence but we are also getting our food fish from the fence, and we have also done some trades with a couple of First Nations so far,” said Donna MacIntyre, fisheries director with LBN.
More than 75 per cent of LBN’s food fish harvest comes from the Babine counting fence. Last year however, the fence saw extremely low number of fish and the fence was open just for three weeks.
“We are a nation of over 2500 members and we only got about 11,500 fish. So we hardly got anything for food fish last year. We had to also put limits on the food fish for Lake Babine Nation for future generations,” said MacIntyre.
According to MacIntyre, this year has been very different at the fence, due to the high water levels and also due to Covid. The members had to work with skeleton crews to ensure social distancing, everything that was being touched needed to be sanitized and members were also told that a lower number of fish per card would be issued in case there are too many people queuing up at the fence.
“We are making it work because we just cannot have too many people and it was very difficult to basically police and make sure people are apart, because when families get together, they want to hug, and they want to chat so that’s where it has been very difficult but people are following the rules and we are doing the best we can but with Covid, it’s been a major challenge,” she said.
This year, the fence was opened up Saturday Aug. 15 until Sept. 15. Limits of 100 fish per status card and a maximum of 200 fish per car were set for LBN members. By Aug. 5, there were only 5,500 fish counted at the fence and it was starting to look like a slow season, but the numbers started to quickly go up to over 390,000 by the time the fence was opened up on Aug. 15.
“All I can say is our members are being able to get their fish right now; will they meet their food fish needs? I will only know when I hear from the people,” she said adding that the actual numbers on how many fish were harvested for food fish, would only be calculated by the end of November.
Under Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) regulations, when sockeye numbers fall to 400,000 it is considered a conservation crisis and no food fishing is permitted.
“This year, our people are able to get food fish and so far, I would say, we are doing okay, but if next year there is not enough fish, I would like my people to have enough to last through another season if next year’s return is poor,” said MacIntyre, urging people to stock up can while the sockeye are plentiful, for the years of low return.