Pacific tribes across borders declare ‘salmon emergency’

The Taku River is one of the transboundary salmon rivers covered by the Pacific Salmon Treaty.
(Photo : Rivers Without Borders)

Tribal representatives from across Southeast Alaska, British Columbia and Washington state are sounding the alarm over threats posed to wild salmon across state and national borders.

“We will not surrender our responsibilities as stewards of the land and resources entrusted to us by our creator,” John Ward of the Taku River Tlingit in Atlin, British Columbia said in a statement.

Pacific tribes stretching from Yakutat, Alaska to Bellingham, Washington attended the three-day summit hosted by the Lummi Nation near Ferndale, Washington.

At the conclusion of the three-day summit, the tribal governments jointly pledged they are:

  • Declaring a state of emergency regarding polluted waters and declining wild salmon stocks
  • Committing to understanding one another’s concerns; and
  • Establishing a committee whereby individuals from Tribes and First Nations can come together and act on these shared concerns.

“We felt that the plight of the salmon is that emergency state at this time,” Tis Peterman, executive director the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission, a consortium of 15 tribes in Southeast Alaska.

It’s just death by a thousand cuts,” she told CoastAlaska Thursday. “There’s so many things affecting our salmon, and this has been a focus of SEITC’s work for five years now.”

The tribes’ statement pointed to resource extraction industries, namely Canadian mines on transboundary watersheds that they say threaten fisheries that are primary food sources and the livelihoods of indigenous peoples.

In Alaska, the agency responsible for managing in-state fisheries is the Department of Fish and Game.

Shawaan Gamble of the Organized Village of Kake in Southeast Alaska speaks during the three-day summit near Ferndale, Washington. Tribal leaders gathered from Alaska, B.C. and Washington state to discuss the future of wild salmon. (Courtesy photo by Jeff Gibbs)

I don’t think we’ve hit an emergency yet,” the agency’s Deputy Commissioner Ben Mulligan told CoastAlaska on Friday.

He says there are chinook runs that are stocks of concern: Chilkat, Unuk and King Salmon rivers.

We haven’t had an indication that we’re reaching that point where we would say overall in the whole of Southeast that those are stocks of concern,” he said.

But Peterman says at the tribal summit, the consensus was governments in both countries aren’t doing enough to protect wild salmon.

She says Canada’s First Nations, Alaska and Washington state tribes pledged to work closer in the future.

Our message is we’re going to keep on working on this issue to try and come up with some solutions based on traditional ecological knowledge,”
she said.

It was the second summit organized by SEITC.

Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director in Juneau.

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