Pacific Salmon: Ecology and Management of Western Alaska’s Populations

Case History of the Skeena Fisheries Commission: Developing Aboriginal Fishery Management Capacity in Northern British Columbia

Allen Gottesfeld, Chris Barnes, Cristina Soto


Abstract.—Pacific salmon are important to the First Nations of the Skeena River watershed in British Columbia. The Skeena Fisheries Commission (SFC) was formed in 1985 through a memorandum of understanding between the watershed’s five First Nations: Tsimshian, Gitxsan, Gitanyow, Wet’suwet’en, and Lake Babine. SFC focuses on salmon management, research, and conservation through governance and technical committees. This paper describes the development of fishery management capacity of SFC within the context of the cultural importance of salmon, the history of salmon management measures, and land claims. Capacity is analyzed in terms of the ability to perform eight management functions: policy making, negotiation and resource planning; stock assessment; fishery monitoring; enforcement and compliance; research, habitat and enhancement activities; data gathering and analysis for resource planning; creating benefits for fishermen and communities; and training and education. Policy making, negotiating, and planning occur between SFC and the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) through formal and informal consultations and monthly technical meetings. SFC also participates in committees at the federal and international levels. Stock assessment activities include spawner enumerations, counting weirs, mark-recapture studies, hydroacoustic surveys, and sampling fish for genetic stock identification. Catch monitoring of the food fishery has been regularly conducted since 1991. First Nation Rangers and federal Fisheries Officers enforce traditional and federal law, respectively. Member First Nations conduct research projects with assistance from SFC staff and infrastructure. Habitat and conservation enhancement projects include road culvert assessments and hatchery rearing of Kitwanga Lake sockeye salmon Oncorhynchus nerka. The creation of benefits for communities occurs through two in-river fisheries. Finally, training and education include SFC-run workshops and specialized training by external sources. SFC will conduct most management functions in the future; however, funding remains a constraint to program expansion. Key elements of the success of the SFC include: the cultural imperative to protect fish, the community origin and leadership of the SFC, a favorable political environment, the early recognition of the need for a watershed-wide organization, and the availability of government funding.