Feeding families: the Ḵ’aasda G̱andlaay fishery

Rhonda Lee McIsaac and video by Tawla Jaad —

“Ten thousand taax̲id t’algiiyuu dang G̲a dii k’uuga ga” I love you more than 10, 000 taaxid (sockeye) – and even more than that have made it past the fish fence at K’aasda Gandlaay Copper River.

Families have been busy since the fishery opened on the May long weekend. The weekend was punctuated by long lineups at the ferry terminal going over to K’il Kun Sandspit, lineups at the local grocery store for supplies, and lineups for ice at Albion.

After an axle grinding, bumpy drive along Copper Bay Road, K’aasda Gandlaay is calming, standing on the pebble beach and looking up to admire the full moon hanging over the water, and tranquil watching the water water flow back up into K’aasda Gandlaay. But, the moment is broken by the sound of frantic splashing as taaxid meet the mesh nets set along the flats leading into the river. Lucky families will be picking fish in the morning. More splashes are heard as more taaxid are caught in a gauntlet of fishing nets.

There are 60 families fishing taaxid this May weekend, with openings at sites like HlGaagilda Skidegate, Antler Cove, up to Jungle Beach, at the point in K’il Kun, and K’aasda Gandlaay and K’aasda GawGa. With approximately 80 nets in the water at K’aasda Gandlaay an estimated 1,750 taaxid  were harvested in the first opening of the K‘aasda fishery. Guud eagles, k’aalts’ida crows, and xuuya ravens also enjoy the feast arriving with each tide.

Taaxid have a silver body with greenish-blue backs with no spots on their body or tails. Their dorsal fins sometimes have spots. This year the fish are of average size between 4 and 5 pounds the veteran fishers say.

Taaxid are anadromous fish, meaning they are born in a river or stream. From K’aasda Gandlaay they migrate up river to K‘aasda Siiwaay Skidegate Lake where they stay until they are old and large enough to migrate back to the ocean. They then spend two or three years in the ocean and in the spring of their fourth year usually return and hold up in K‘aasda Siiwaay. In the fall as they are turning bright red they travel to their spawning grounds in the upper tributaries of the lake including Shale, Parsons, Keats and other small streams.

The HlGaagilda Skidegate Sockeye Management Committee consists of HlGaagilda community members who set the annual catch quota for the taaxid fishery. The limit for each family this year is 30 fish. This number is determined by reviewing the previous year’s returns and also trends over time as provided by the Haida Fisheries Program.

Every year fishers are asked to report the number of fish they catch to the Haida Fisheries Guardians. They are also asked to report the sex of their catch when they are cleaning their fish. The female to male ratio is used to calculate the closing of the fishery. The maximum rate is set at 60 per cent females caught, and when this is reached, the fishery is closed.

The HlGaagilda Skidegate Sockeye Management Committee has closed K’aasda Gandlaay, Xaana Kaahlii Skidegate Inlet and K’aadasGuu Gandlaay Mathers Creek (Church Creek) fishery for the remainder of the season.

As of June 6, the estimated return to date at K’aasda Gandlaay was 17, 669 sockeye and just over 3,700 were harvested in the net fishery. Just over 200 fish were harvested at the fence for various community events. Monitoring and counting will continue at the sites.

“Fishing was good this year. We’re all pretty satisfied. Shutting the fishery down protects what we got for future generations down the road,” stated George Martynuik, a member of the Skidegate Sockeye Management Committee.

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