Metepenagiag First Nation won’t use gill nets this year

K. BRYANNAH JAMES                                Miramichi Leader               

METEPENAGIAG • The band council for the Metepenagiag First Nation has decided to keep gill nets out of the water this season in an effort to help with the conservation of wild Atlantic salmon. Adam Augustine, director of operations for Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation, said the band council decided this week they will not drop their gill nets in the Miramichi River system for conservation reasons.

“Metepenagiag is committed to the conservation of the Atlantic salmon, and we realize the impact that gill nets do have on the population,” said Augustine.

This is not the first time the First Nations community hasn’t placed their gill nets, also known as drop nets, in the water. The nets are placed across the river and are designed to catch fish, most notably wild Atlantic salmon. Gill nets are set above the Red Bank bridge, Augustine said, while six are strung along the southwest side of the river and another six on the northwest. He said it’s tradition for the gill nets to be placed in the water before trap nets. However, this year without the latter, the trap nets will be set and fished earlier and will be the harvesting method this season.

“We have an invested interest in the Atlantic salmon, so council has decided in a meeting and they’re doing a band council resolution to that effect, that this year we’re not going to drop our gill nets in,” he said. Augustine said there is a negative connotation attached to First Nation gill nets and its an image his community would like to shed. “We want to show that we do care about the river and salmon stocks,” he said. The decision not to place the nets in the river has been mulled over for the last month by council, following a meeting with Mark Hambrook, president of the Miramichi Salmon Association and director Debbie Norton, about the low salmon numbers in the Miramichi River. Neither Hambrook or Norton could be reached by press time to talk about the nets or the salmon numbers.

Tracy Anne Cloud, a Metepenagiag band councillor, said there have been discussions with both the salmon association as well as Fisheries and Oceans Canada about problems with salmon female egg production over the last two years. She said this endeavour has never been done in the community, but the idea has been met with support, noting that accessing salmon stock is an aboriginal treaty right. “Even though we know it’s a right of ours, it’s also an obligation for us and as leaders and as community members to ensure that those stocks are available for all our generations to come,” said Cloud. “We do consider ourselves stewards of the area of the Miramichi and that’s our obligation to protect and to conserve.” Could said at the end of May, elders within the community will meet with Norton and recreational angler and association member Betty Jane Ward for a presentation and dinner, during which each elder receives a farmed salmon. Cloud did not disclose the name of the farm providing the fish because it has yet to be confirmed. “In which they might supply us some additional salmon for ceremonial and traditional purposes. So that we’re not needing to take it out of the river as well. And we’ll be putting all those nice, big, beautiful female salmon back in,” she said. Cloud said when it comes to the release of female salmon from the trap nets, it will be recorded when they are returned to the water. “So that people can see that, that’s indeed what we are doing. That we are doing what we say we’re going to do.”

Augustine said while the trap nets will stay in the river, female salmon will be freed and not harmed if they become trapped in them and won’t be harvested. He explained that gill nets harm the species caught in them and trap nets will present an opportunity to release live female salmon and harvest live. “And just harvest the male salmon and the male, female grilse.” A female salmon carries more eggs than a grilse, or younger salmon. “There’s literally thousands more inside a large female salmon and there’s not that many in a grilse,” he said. He said there’s an invested interest on the river, and the species. “It’s our food fishery and it’s something that we don’t want to see disappear from our river,” said Augustine.

Freeman Ward, chief of Metepenagiag First Nation, said it was a unanimous decision by the band council to keep the nets out of the river. “Our decision was to support the wishes of our elders in the community,” said Ward. “Many of our elders in the community have concerns, and they’ve expressed it to us.” Ward said this also shows what elders do for younger generations. “This is just another example of elders making sacrifices for the benefit of their children and grandchildren,” said Ward.

Parallel to the conservation of the Atlantic Salmon will be conservation efforts with trout in the river. Each year the community holds the annual Big Tex Trout Derby, where people flock to the river in hopes of catching a monster fish. Augustine said following each trout derby and in conjunction with the North Shore Mi’kmaq District Council’s Aboriginal Aquatic Resource and Oceans Management program, both councils will work to equally restock trout in the river.

Nelson Cloud, environmental services field technical and photographer with program, said this is the first year the restocking program will be on the river. He said it’s “in the really early stages” but “so far it looks really good.” Cloud said it’s about conservation, getting youth involved and is aimed at raising trout numbers.