Birch Island chief encouraging walleye stewardship

Students of Shawanosowe School release walleye fingerlings into McGregor Bay in 2017.

Chief Shining Turtle pairs right to harvest with right to replenish

BIRCH ISLAND—Whitefish River First Nation Chief Shining Turtle is a hands on kind of guy, so when the opportunity to take part in a survey targeting the pickerel populations in the Bay of Islands arose he jumped at the chance, but what he discovered on that trip left him shaken.

“We pulled up the trap nets and there were about 134 walleye caught in the net, only five were female,” he said.

That realization fired up his determination. “I think this is a time to put aside philosophical differences,” he said. “The message we are getting from Mother Nature is pretty clear here.”

The Whitefish River First Nation has had an ongoing restocking program for a number of years and the children of the community have been recruited into the conservation program in a major way. It is for those children and their children that Chief Shining Turtle has sought to build a community consensus on nurturing the fish stocks back to health.

“What is the message we are getting here? We have young people who are putting back into the environment and I want them to be able to see what their parents and their grandparents saw when they looked into the water at night.”

Along with the right to harvest, Chief Shining Turtle said he believes the Anishinabe also “have a right to replenish.”

To that end, the chief consulted with his council members and the community to find a path forward that would help nurture the fish stocks in local waters.

For several nights, the chief personally went out and talked to those coming to spearfish the spawning pickerel. “For the most part people were very receptive,” said Chief Shining Turtle. “There is a lot of pressure on the fish here because there is a good path down to the water.”

Chief Shining Turtle pointed out that there are 365 days in a year to fish, but the critical time of the spawn covers only a few days. “There are what? One, two, three days in 365 that are critical. We can all play a part in helping to ensure that the resource will be around for our children and their children’s children.”

Chief Shining Turtle said that it was very helpful to the discussion that the band has data to inform their way forward. “We have independent reports from biologists that tell us what is happening,” he said. “It gave us a snapshot of what is really taking place.” Rather than depending on anecdotal reports or wishful thinking, the cold hard truth of the data paints a troubling picture of the future.

“What do we do? We are at a crossroads,” said Chief Shining Turtle. “How do we look at finding a way forward that works well for everyone?”

To that end Chief Shining Turtle said that his council and community would be looking at strategies going forward. “We are not going to wait until next year,” he said. “We are going to deal with this issue in our way, and we will do it together.”