By ROBERT MATAS
Friday, September 2, 2005 Page S1
VANCOUVER -- Four commercial fishermen were accused this week of fishing in the Fraser River in violation of government conservation measures. Federal enforcement officers issued tickets requiring the fishermen to appear in court. The officers did not seize the salmon they caught, their vessel or their nets. However, federal fishery officials dealt differently last month with native fishermen on Vancouver Island.
Two native fishermen were accused of selling salmon that they were permitted to catch only for their own food, or for social or ceremonial purposes. Enforcement officers seized 169 salmon, the fishermen's vehicle and even the cooler in which fish were kept, in addition to issuing tickets.
Native fishermen on the Fraser River have also felt the full weight of the law. Earlier this year, Cheam fisherman Rick Quipp, a member of the Sto:lo Nation, allegedly broke the rules and his boat was seized and he was held in jail. In July, a net was seized from Scowlitz fisherman Sonny Williams, also of the Sto:lo Nation.
"There's a double standard when it comes to fisheries enforcement," Grand Chief Doug Kelly, tribal chief for intergovernmental relations of the Sto:lo Tribal Council, said yesterday in an interview.
"If you are a commercial fisherman, you may not even get a slap on the wrist," Mr. Kelly said. "But if you are a Sto:lo fisherman or aboriginal fisherman, you lose your gear, potentially your boat, and your catch. For some, they face jail time."
Mr. Kelly appealed to the federal Fisheries Department yesterday to deal with concerns about the apparent double standard.
Many tribal council members watched a report on the evening news this week about enforcement officers taking action against the commercial fishermen on the Fraser River, Mr. Kelly stated in correspondence to the federal Fisheries Department yesterday. The officers left the commercial fishermen with their boats, vehicles, nets and catch.
"It is clear that [federal fisheries officials are] exercising their full authority and responsibility when it comes to first nation fisheries," Mr. Kelly said. The apparent double standard causes the Sto:lo serious concerns, he said.
The suggestion of a double standard comes as tensions mount over the decision this week by the Pacific Salmon Commission to prohibit a commercial fishery for sockeye salmon on the Fraser River. Several commercial fishermen have supported calls for a protest fishery to draw attention to the impact of the closing on their livelihoods.
More than seven million sockeye are expected to return to the Fraser River this year. However, the Pacific Salmon Commission decided that most of the fish should be allowed to return to their spawning grounds.
Native fishermen, who have priority to fish after conservation needs have been met, have caught more than 500,000 sockeye. The fish are meant to be for their own use, and they are not allowed to sell them.
The timing of the salmon runs and the intermingling of a plentiful salmon stock with an endangered subspecies wiped out the opportunity for a commercial fishery, the commission decided.
The Fisheries Department stepped up enforcement this summer to ensure its conservation goals were met. Greg Savard, director of conservation and protection, dismissed the suggestion that the department imposed a double standard.
"Each situation is unique and [enforcement] officers make decisions at the time of what is the best course of action," he said in an interview yesterday.
Officers on Vancouver Island thought seizing the salmon, vehicle and cooler was warranted to prevent further violation of the law, he said.
"We did not want the offence to continue, so it makes sense to seize the fish," Mr. Savard said.
However, enforcement officers did not believe the commercial fishermen on the Fraser this week intended to sell their fish.
"By all accounts, people were out there to make a point. They were going to take the fish home for their own consumption. It was a whole different thing than what you saw [on Vancouver Island], where fish were allegedly being sold that should not be sold."
Mr. Williams, 33, said he set out his net in the Fraser River in July. When he returned half an hour later, his net was gone. Band members told him that federal enforcement officers had seized it. They have not yet returned it, he said.
Mr. Quipp said he was picked up in April and put in jail overnight. He said he was exercising his aboriginal right to fish, but the enforcement officers allege he was fishing without a licence and was illegally in possession of the catch. He said he had previously been charged but had never before been detained.
"When they catch sport fishermen, they give them a ticket on the spot, and that is as far as it goes. They caught me, and took my boat and gear," he said. "That in my eyes is dual justice."
The Globe and MailBridge Sept 02 2005.USLCES Home page.