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Fisheries and Wildlife
The Nass River flows 400 kilometres from its headwaters at Magoonhl Lisims to the sea at Gingolx. Along the way, it courses through the heart of Nisga'a life and culture. One of the healthiest and most abundant river systems in the world, K'alii Aksim Lisims (the Nass) is the spawning grounds of wild salmon, steelhead, and oolichan. Today, Nisga'a Lisims Government manages the Nass River fishery to preserve the resource, provide for our people, and to support a modern, sustainable fishing industry.
Nisga'a Fishing Rights
The Nisga'a Final Agreement ensures the right of the Nisga'a people to fish throughout the Nass Area. Nisga'a fishing rights ensure access to Nisga'a traditional territory and the marine waters of Portland Canal and Observatory Inlet. Known as the Nass Area, this region encompasses 26,838 square kilometres of northwest British Columbia. The Nisga'a Nation harvests and sells salmon in accordance with the Nisga'a Final Agreement. Under the treaty, the Nass River is once again providing opportunities to help Nisga'a people thrive.
Nisga'a Fisheries Management Program
The Nisga'a Fisheries Management Program safeguards the resource to ensure its health and sustainability. Facilitated through the Joint Fisheries Management Committee-which is comprised of representatives from Canada, British Columbia, and Nisga'a Lisims Government-the program utilizes six fish wheels on the Nass River for salmon monitoring, tagging, and data collection, and conducts stock assessment on a variety of species throughout the Nass Area. Because of the superior management of the watershed, the Nass River produces the highest quality salmon in the world.
The goals of the program are to:
- determine the status of Nass stocks
- provide information required for better management
- determine run size, timing and harvest rates
- determine factors limiting production
- provide training and employment for Nisga'a people.
Nisga'a Fisheries Management Program collaborates with researchers from around the world, including: Williams College, Massachusetts, USA; National Research Institute of Far Seas Fisheries, Japan; Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game; Lhiet Li'ten First Nation; Yale First Nation; UBC Zoology; Pacific Biological Station, DFO, Nanaimo; BC Ministry of Environment.
The Nisga'a Fisheries Program has four main branches.
- Fisheries Management
- Stock Assessment
- Habitat Assessment
- in-season information is reliable and timely
- joint planning and pre-season preparation is conducted with DFO
- frequent in-season communication with DFO occurs through bi-weekly reporting
- post-season reporting and reviews
- a systematic approach
- co-operation of Nisga'a and recreational fishers
- complete monitoring of both salmon and non-salmon species
- daily mark recapture system using fish wheels
- 70 - 90% of the sockeye are counted at Meziadin fishway
- Chinook surveys for visual counts and mark recoveries
- current escapement and catch estimates are some of the best on the coast
- recorded substantial year-to-year variability in Chinook escapement
- Observe, Record Report Program (patrol vessel charters)
- Fisheries Officer trainee working directly with DFO Fisheries Officers
- training program designed and ready to implement as soon as funding is secured
The focus of stock assessment is on sockeye, Chinook, coho and steelhead, pink and chum as well as non-salmon species. The fish wheels have provided the bulk of the assessment data for the salmon species. Radio-telemetry was used to develop and evaluate the mark-recapture system.
Coho Key Streams
Prior to 1992, there was no reliable information on Nass River coho. Now, Zolzap creek is providing data on Alaskan harvest, escapement, and harvest rates, and fish wheels are providing a minimum escapement of coho to the upper Nass River.
Sockeye Lake Studies
In an effort to understand the limits to production of the extremely valuable sockeye stocks of the Nass River, a number of studies have occurred. These include studies of limnology, zooplankton, nutrients, and juvenile abundance.
The Kwinageese studies provided critical information on coho and sockeye. In addition, a test of an aerial video survey system was completed on Hlginx.
The Kincolith Hatchery represents the best opportunity for maintaining a Chinook key stream in the Nass Area. Currently, Chinook stocks are enhanced at this facility. Enhancement and stock assessment occur simultaneously at the Hatchery.