The Gitksan Watershed Authorities (GWA) was founded in 1992 to complement the Gitksan aboriginal title research work initiated in the 1970’s. The organization works within the traditional house system with a principal focus on fisheries-related technical support through agreements with Fisheries and Oceans Canada Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy programming and other research funding. Since the year 2000, GWA has been collecting environmental and biological data on Slamgeesh salmon stocks. A Mark Recapture program using two velocity barrier fykes operates from late April till the beginning of July each year estimating the smolt population, with the exception of years 2006-2008. An adult salmon fence operates from the end of July to the end of October to enumerate sockeye and coho escapements. Environmental data is also collected, including stream water levels and temperature for the spawning grounds and outlet stream, lake temperatures by depth, air temperature, and rainfall. The program goal of being a long term salmon index site for the Upper Skeena has been successful with continued monitoring after reporting 18 years of data.
“The Mandate arises from Gitksan law, ownership and jurisdiction over Gitksan territory. Hereditary Chiefs created the GWA as the agency responsible for re-invigorating jurisdiction and enforcing Gitksan law for activities involving lands and resources of the Gitksan territories.”
The Slamgeesh Salmon Program
The Slamgeesh Salmon Program was included as a core program in the North and Central Coast Core Stock Assessment Program developed by the Pacific Salmon Foundation in conjunction with the DFO and First Nations. The Skeena Fisheries Commission Technical Committee considers this to be one of the primary projects in the Skeena Watershed. It has also been assigned high priority by the Northern Boundary Technical Committee. The continuation of fisheries research activities at Slamgeesh is a recommendation of the Upper Skeena Watershed Planning Group of the Gitxsan First Nation. Adequate information is needed to implement the Wild Salmon Policy being developed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (FOC) which states that “the preservation to salmon should be the primary consideration of any strategy to conserve wild Pacific salmon (FOC, 2005).” Wild indicator stock assessment in the northern part of the watershed requires support from the science community as less productive stocks limit the exploitation on the Babine stocks which can support higher exploitation rates. Better understanding of the health of smaller wild sockeye stocks, including Slamgeesh, will help to fine tune the management of the Skeena mixed stock fishery.
Enumeration by the Slamgeesh project provides the only reliable counts of adult and smolt coho and sockeye numbers from the Skeena watershed above the Babine River. This area was the most affected by the decline in coho abundance of the 1990s (Holtby, Finnegan, Chen & Peacock, 1999) and has since shown strong recovery. Application of coded wire tags to this wild coho population is still important for the analysis of exploitation rates in Canadian and Alaskan fisheries. Over the past decade the program has gained more value for its upper Skeena sockeye information. Slamgeesh Lake is representative of about twelve small upper Skeena sockeye lakes and is an important indicator. The sockeye adult and smolt numbers represent the single wild upper Skeena population for determining smolt productivity and smolt to adult survival. The research station also provides a platform for further ecological studies linked to long term data sets.