The last stand for Wild salmon and steelhead. Showcases the many challenges the Skeena River's fragile ecosystem faces. From the different perspectives of the rivers inhabitants, to the ever present threat of resource exploitation. A film that displays the struggle that we see so often in today’s world. 40 min.
You’ll find no easy answers here. But there is hope. Hope that together, we will recognize the importance of protecting the Skeena Watershed.
The Skeena River is the second largest river system in British Columbia and one of the largest non-dammed rivers in the world. Swift and cold, it is home to one of the last great runs of wild salmon and steelhead on the planet. The Skeena fishery is very much an economic driver in Northern British Columbia, on par with the mainstay of forestry. The total direct revenue from wild salmon on the Skeena River is estimated at $110 million.
The Sockeye Salmon is the star of the Pacific Salmon. Prized for the high oil content of its’ flesh, it is the target species of the fishery. The Sockeye’s life cycle begins as they emerge from gravel beds in the spring. As fry, they spend one to two years in the river growing healthy enough to make their ocean bound journey, where they spend 2 to 3 years fattening on a bountiful ocean diet. Then, they return to their natal rivers to spawn and restart the cycle.
This film is about the return of the Sockeye and the different groups that depend on them. From the commercial fisherman who cull this valuable resource at the river’s mouth, to the First Nations’ identity that is intertwined with the Salmon they have taken along the Skeena’s banks for thousands of years, and finally, the outfitters up river who have found the value of the resource in tourism and sport fishing.
Beginning in and around the Skeena river’s mouth, salmon first encounter humans in the form of the commercial fleet of Prince Rupert, B.C. The commercial Skeena River sockeye fishery began with the first cannery operations in 1877. Sockeye salmon were harvested predominantly by gill nets in the Skeena River until the 1930s, when powered vessels moved out to ocean fishing. Ocean fishing continues today under strict government enforced guidelines during a very small window each summer. These fisherman help to bring salmon to consumers all over the world.
Fishing for the commercial fleet is concentrated in the Prince Rupert area, with a fleet of several hundred vessels. The industry's primary harvest is salmon bound for the Skeena and Nass river systems, supplemented by halibut, ling cod, herring, crab, shrimp and other bottom fish. In Prince Rupert, one of the largest canneries in the world provided employment for about 1,000 full-time and seasonal workers at its’ peak of operations.
Although they share the cultural-lingual umbrella of the Tsimshian - the "people inside of the Skeena River"- four distinct dialect groups have contributed to the rich aboriginal history of northern British Columbia and southern Alaska. They include:
• Northern Tsimshian (north of the lower Skeena)
• Southern Tsimshian (south of the lower Skeena)
• Gitskan (upper Skeena River)
• Nisga'a (in the basin of the Nass River).
Together, these First Nations groups, neighbors of the Alaskan Tlingit and the Queen Charlotte Haida, represent one of the oldest continuous cultures in North America. Midden sites in the Prince Rupert area, at the mouth of the Skeena, indicate that the beachfront winter homes of small household groups were well established as many as 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. By 1500 B.C., larger populations, sophisticated homes and highly stratified social structures were part of the settlement pattern, due to the bountiful Salmon and the Natives’ ability to catch and preserve this food source. Today, the fish and river play a vital role in providing identity and community for the great people of the First Nations that inhabit this grand river.
Sport fishing came to the Skeena region as early as the middle of the 20th Century. The grandeur of the area, coupled with the chance to catch world record salmon and steelhead, attracted sportsmen from around the world. The salmon fishing is a tourism boom for many of these towns. Today people pay as much as $5,000 for a week of steelhead fishing on some of the world famous tributaries of the Skeena River, like the Sustut and Babine rivers.
There is another side as well. Forestry, energy, and mining interests vie for there own rights to this resource rich area and threaten to destroy habitat that is essential for the Salmon to survive.
As these three groups fight for their portion of the resource might they miss the bigger picture? While fighting for their respective ‘piece of the pie’, will the larger battle of conservation and preservation, that drives all these groups, lose out to big business and modernization? If it’s people or fish, people historically win out. Or, will these groups find interesting and dynamic ways to solve their differences and make the Skeena Drainage a global symbol of people finally recognizing the value of pristine wilderness and the importance of preservation?