Taking it to the streams: Uu-a-thluk and Nuu-chah-nulth Nations’ fisheries staff resume fieldwork under COVID-19 safety protocols

After a three-month hiatus caused by COVID-19 safety restrictions, Uu-a-thluk and Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations fisheries staff are preparing to embark on much-anticipated fieldwork and to offer training opportunities under ‘new normal’ guidelines.

“I’m feeling cooped up and eager to get in to the field,” said Sabrina Crowley, Uu-a-thluk Southern Region Biologist, the day Uu-a-thluk staff received notice about the resumption of fieldwork.

Crowley moved fast, and within hours, had generated a plan to assist her sister, Uchucklesaht Fisheries Technician Tina Halvorsen, with work at the Hucuktlis (Henderson) Lake fish counting fence.

Uu-a-thluk confirmed its “Uu-a-thluk Fisheries Staff COVID-19 Safety Protocols” on June 17 following the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council’s June 10 announcement of a gradual return to work plan starting June 15.

The protocols include guidelines for the inclusion and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, hand sanitizer, masks and eye protection in vehicles and boats, and expectations of staff for reviewing and supplying the required PPE for each particular trip or situation.

 Although Uu-a-thluk staff have refrained from fieldwork until now, individual Nuu-chah-nulth Nations’ fisheries staff have been able to conduct some work in their respective territories.

“We never really ceased field operations completely,” said Hupacasath First Nation Fisheries Manager Graham Murrell, when describing the nation’s fisheries activity.

“We were able to operate our [rotary screw] trap at Robertson Creek, monitoring the sockeye smolt out-migration … this is a project that has run for several years so it was good to continue it,” he added.

In an email to Uu-a-thluk, Murrell explained that the nation followed a modified procedure that included having one technician working at a time and no contact with Robertson Creek Hatchery staff.

Hupacasath has also been operating the Sproat and Stamp River fishways since mid-April. The work, which is considered essential, has been supported by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and conducted under safety protocol guidelines developed in partnership with DFO.

Over in Ditidaht First Nation territory, food fishing was the priority for the fisheries department until very recently.

According to Darryl Tate, Ditidaht First Nation’s Fisheries Manager, fisheries staff prioritized helping their nation’s members with food fish as a response to the panic buying that occurred at grocery stores when the news of the pandemic broke.

Though unrelated to COVID-19, their recent purchase of a new 200-horsepower Mercury Ocean Pro motor for their 24-foot bow picker, “Belosh,” came in handy for monitoring fishing efforts.

The staff continue to monitor their nation’s food fishing, and are now able to add regular fieldwork activities to their list of priorities.

“We’ve got our crab pots in for crab surveys now and we’ve installed the [Hobiton River] fish counting fence,” said Tate. “We’ve been doing the river walks up to the first two pools to see if there’s been any sockeye at the Hobiton,” he added.

While Uu-a-thluk and Nuu-chah-nulth Nations’ technical staff venture back out in the field, administrative, communications and capacity building staff from Uu-a-thluk are busy working on the delivery of other facets of Uu-a-thluk’s program activities under the ‘new normal.’

Staff are in the final stages of coordinating a virtual Council of Ha’wiih Forum on Fisheries scheduled to take place via Zoom conferencing on June 25. The online meeting will be the first of its kind, and will aim to incorporate cultural components that would normally occur in addition to fisheries-related discussion.

Alison Wale, Uu-a-thluk Capacity Building Coordinator, is in the early phase of planning flatwater safety and rescue training for Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation community members for early August. She is researching outdoor options for the classroom component of the one-day course – something that is not normally done. 

“With Covid-19 social distancing restrictions, I haven’t found a local venue that can handle ten people at the same time,” explained Wale.

Wale hopes that since the rest of the course will be taking place outdoors, rain or shine, that participants will not mind doing the classroom component outdoors as well.

Any Nuu-chah-nulth community members interested in enrolling in the course that focuses on identifying hazards associated with flatwater (lakes, reservoirs, estuaries, in-shore waters), self-rescue skills and the rescue of others should contact Wale at alison.wale@nuuchahnulth.org.

“I’m also interested in having members contact me with feedback on other training opportunities they’d like to see,” added Wale.

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