Pacific Salmon Commission

Pacific Salmon Commission

August 22, 2013 15:30 ET

Celebrations Mark a Century of International Cooperation in Conserving Fraser River Salmon

BOSTON BAR, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwired - Aug. 22, 2013) - Representatives from the Government of Canada, First Nations, the United States, and U.S. Indian Tribes today celebrated 100 years of cooperation in conserving and managing Fraser River salmon.

In a special event held at historic Hell's Gate, dignitaries from both sides of the border unveiled commemorative plaques to mark the occasion and reflected on the enduring legacy of cooperation sparked by rock slides a century ago.

In 1913, the first massive rock slides at Hell's Gate blocked the passage of sockeye salmon en route to their spawning grounds throughout the Fraser River system in the BC Interior. Quickly, efforts began to assess the situation and develop lasting solutions to protect fisheries of immense commercial and cultural importance to both Canada and the United States. While small-scale efforts to move fish around the blockage started immediately, it would take years of dialogue before consensus could be reached on the scope of the problem and a practical solution.

In 1937, a treaty between Canada and the United States laid the foundation for large-scale formal cooperation to restore and manage Fraser River salmon through the International Pacific Salmon Fisheries Commission (IPSFC). The IPSFC facilitated the construction of massive concrete "fishways" around the blockage at Hell's Gate in 1945 and 1946, a major engineering feat that endures to this day. The 1937 treaty was eventually replaced in 1985 with a new agreement to cover regional salmon fisheries from Alaska through B.C. to the U.S. Northwest via the Pacific Salmon Commission (PSC), which includes members from the Government of Canada, First Nations, the United States, and U.S. Indian Tribes.

In addition to supporting commercial and recreational fisheries, Fraser River salmon are critically important to First Nations and U.S. Indian Tribes which incorporate the fish into their culture, health, and economy and continue to contribute significantly to conservation efforts.

"Today, we give respect to the First Nations through whose territory the Fraser River flows, and honour the century of dedication shown by generations of people to preserve these historically important fisheries," said Chief Fred Sampson of the Siska Band.

Lorraine Loomis, co-chair of the PSC's Fraser River Panel and member of the Swinomish Tribe, offered similar views. "The U.S. tribes have strong ties to the fate of Fraser River salmon and will continue their long legacy of conservation and sustainable use."

"While the last 100 years has seen a mix of struggles and success in dealing with Pacific salmon across the region, the people involved always shared a common goal to protect the fish and the communities they support," said John Field, Executive Secretary of the Pacific Salmon Commission.

"It is truly remarkable that two countries have cooperated for 100 years with such success on a shared environmental issue," added Anne Callaghan, U.S. Consul General in Vancouver. "The United States remains committed to managing our salmon fisheries and other natural resource issues shared with our friends in Canada."

The returns of Fraser sockeye this year have been mixed relative to scientific forecasts, with some runs near the low end of the range, others in the middle, and still others near the high end. However, all returns have been higher than their parent year runs in 2009. The PSC and its Fraser River Panel have responded quickly with actions to maximize the chances of a successful spawning run, and the Hell's Gate fishways will increase fish survival during the present low river flows and high temperatures.

"Conservation and the sustainable use of fisheries resources are a priority for our Government," said Cathy McLeod, Member of Parliament for Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue, who attended the event on behalf of Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. "Our Government knows the importance of salmon in B.C. That is why $65 million is committed annually to Pacific salmon, with about $20 million directly related to Fraser River sockeye."

Pacific salmon include many species with wide geographic ranges and varying abundance that require monitoring and management across national borders and jurisdictions. As a treaty organization, the PSC facilitates this through research and regular meetings between national, state, First Nation, and U.S. tribal delegates to manage commercial, sport, and subsistence fisheries for salmon in both countries. The PSC organized today's celebration with support from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Fraser River Aboriginal Fisheries Society, Hell's Gate Air Tram, and the Pacific Salmon Foundation.

To obtain photos from today's event or for more information on the history of the Pacific Salmon Commission and the Hell's Gate fishways, please contact John Field at the PSC headquarters as shown below.

Backgrounder

Hell's Gate Fishways - An Example of International Cooperation

Located in British Columbia's Fraser River Canyon, Hell's Gate is an extremely narrow gorge that constricts the southerly flow of the Fraser River. This naturally-occurring rock formation creates a bubbling cauldron of white water that is world-renowned for both its beauty and power. Below the surface, Hell's Gate also serves as a substantial barrier to the migration of Fraser River salmon.

From the mid-1880s through 1914, railway construction resulted in large quantities of rock falling in the river, depositing debris directly into the Fraser River below. As a result, salmon destined for major tributaries such as the Salmon, Adams and Horsefly Rivers died without spawning - jeopardizing the viability of future runs.

In late 1913, authorities commenced efforts to remove and relocate debris from Hell's Gate as well as to construct a rudimentary fish ladder to permit salmon to migrate upstream. However, a rock slide in February 1914 further narrowed the gorge, making salmon migration nearly impossible. A valued resource on both sides of the border, the declines in Fraser River sockeye salmon returns caused ongoing concern for the Governments of Canada and the United States.

On August 4, 1937, Canada and the United States signed the Convention between the United States of America and Canada for the Protection, Preservation and Extension of the Sockeye Salmon Fishery of the Fraser River System. The treaty established the right of both countries to harvest an equal proportion of sockeye returning to the Fraser River. It also formalized the obligation of both countries to conduct scientific investigations, make recommendations, and initiate regulatory decisions to improve the status of Fraser River sockeye. To oversee these tasks, the treaty created the International Pacific Salmon Fisheries Commission (IPSFC) with representatives from both nations.

In 1938, the IPSFC commenced a scientific review to improve salmon passage at Hell's Gate. Early studies indicated that while some late-returning sockeye salmon runs were able to migrate through the area, the combination of increased velocity and significant elevation change resulting from debris build-up proved nearly impassable for early runs. IPSFC scientists recommended immediate action to improve fish passage past the Hell's Gate obstruction.

The first fishways on the banks of Hell's Gate were constructed from the fall of 1944 through May 1946. The effect was immediate - allowing the passage of salmon previously unable to migrate due to high stream flows. Additional fishways were added to the system over the next two decades, with the costs shared equally by Canada and the United States. The fishways continue to serve as an important reminder of the need for cooperative management of Pacific salmon.

Today, the Pacific Salmon Commission, the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States continue to work closely with First Nations, U.S. tribes, and others to conserve and protect this important resource.

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