Aug 2005

St’át’imc Salmon Fishing in the Fraser River


The reason St’át’imc people have maintained and lived in this territory for so long is the salmon.  Salmon has provided a reliable source of sustenance year after year, generation after generation. The salmon fishery has been and remains an integral part of our St’át’imc culture.

            This section of the Fraser River provides the very best of fishing areas. Our oral history tells of how an elder man from the communities would sit by the river watching the salmon go by. When he was sure that enough has passed for people up-river and for spawning, then people could begin fishing for their own supplies.

Fishing for the spring salmon begins when the buttercup flowers blossom early in the spring, and carries on throughout the summer for the sockeye and Coho salmon runs into early fall.

            The methods of catching salmon include various types of nets including gillnets, set-nets and dip-nets. The gill nets are extended out and float in the river. The set-net is a hoop and pole type used within back-eddies. The third type is called a dip-net or swing-net. It is repeatedly swung or dipped downriver into fast flowing water. 

Cured salmon eggs, salmon oil along with wind-dried, smoke-dried and powdered salmon was vital for ensuring the winter survival of our ancestors. 

Preserving and storing salmon has changed. Salmon are now preserved by canning and freezing methods. However, dried salmon remains an important part of St’át’imc culture.

The St’át’imc are well known for wind-dried salmon because this area provides the ideal hot, dry, windy conditions necessary to produce some of the best dried salmon to be found anywhere.  These conditions last only a few weeks providing a very short window of time to prepare the salmon in this way.

The wind-dried salmon was our main exchange in trading activities with surrounding indigenous nations. During first contact, the trade for dried salmon with our people was also the main source of survival for the non-native Hudson Bay Company fur-traders that lived in the interior.

Our salmon fishery has been impacted in many ways.  The productive fisheries at the outlet of Seton Lake has been destroyed by the construction of the BC Hydro dam during the 1950s. A definite impact has resulted from the hundred plus years of over-fishing by the commercial fishermen in the ocean. 

The salmon have returned in unprecedented low numbers this year. So far, the people have put in long days to obtain a small amount of salmon. 

Many theories abound about the drastic drop in the resource ranging from global warming affecting the snow-pack and water temperatures to disruptions within the ocean environment.

The recent aboriginal commercial fisheries within the lower Fraser that has been sanctioned by the Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans over the last decade has also affected us upriver. While it is true that our indigenous peoples have relied upon the fisheries for barter and trade economically, this was not at the expense of our neighbours upriver or at the risk of the salmon resource itself.


Cathy Narcisse First Published in Bridge River Lillooet News Aug 2005
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