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Partnership signed to protect char

Katie May
Northern News Services
Published Monday, November 8, 2010



AKLAVIK - John Carmichael watched intently as representatives from the federal government, the Gwich'in and the Inuvialuit passed around official papers calling for the conservation of char in the Mackenzie Delta. He knew their signatures meant they'd listened to him.

Carmichael, an Aklavik elder, began monitoring Dolly Varden char around the community 16 years ago and was one of the first fishermen to alert officials when he noticed the fish were dwindling.

Dolly Varden char stocks have been decreasing significantly around Aklavik and Fort McPherson for the past 30 years. Last week the Gwich'in, Inuvialuit and federal government heeded residents' advice and officially took a step to protect the fish by signing an integrated fisheries management plan in front of an audience of about 30 people in Aklavik Nov. 3.

The plan is the first of its kind for Dolly Varden char and it encompasses areas under both the Gwich'in and Inuvialuit land claims, though several Dolly Varden habitats have been voluntarily closed to fishing for more than 20 years, including at Big Fish River outside of Aklavik. The GNWT classifies the species as "sensitive," one step away from being at risk, and the new management plan recommends that Gwich'in and Inuvialuit councils set harvest caps at no more than five per cent of the total Dolly Varden stock, which differs from river to river.

"The numbers were going down," Carmichael explained. "We're just seeing them come back now," he added, expressing his gratitude that local and federal agencies saw fit to protect the fish.

Robert Charlie, former chair of the Gwich'in Renewable Resources Council (GRRB), said the plan was a long time coming and that it couldn't have happened without the co-operation of all parties, including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Parks Canada, the GRRB, the Joint Fisheries Management Committee and local Hunters and Trappers committees.

Before his resignation two months ago, Charlie had been working on the file since 1995.

"People are dependent on the char so they have to help us to manage the resource. Obviously they are engaged and have helped us when we initiated voluntary closures. Long-term sustainability is important to them," he said after the signing. "We have to be part of the solution as well."

P.J. Kay, a long-time fish monitor and member of Fort McPherson's Renewable Resources Council, wasn't about to miss the official signing of the document.

"It feels great because we've been working at it for a long time," he said, adding he's glad much of the responsibility for implementing the plan will come back to local councils.

That means not much will change for Gwich'in and Inuvialuit fishers who have already stopped fishing in areas where the char were sparse.

"We're just making it official," said Aklavik Mayor Billy Storr.

"We work together for a resource we want to sustain."

The management plan commits the parties to conduct annual reviews of the region's Dolly Varden stock and make necessary changes to its implementation. Last year, Gwich'in fishers reported a total harvest of 95 char, down from 6,500 in 1972. The groups' management report points to over-fishing, habitat change, climate change and an abundance of predators as possible reasons for the decline.

Meanwhile, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada is considering the status of this Northern subspecies of Dolly Varden and may recommend the char be added to Canada's Species At Risk Act by the end of this year.


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Information Contact: fjmc@jointsec.nt.ca

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