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Section of Sylvia Grinnell closed

Christine Kay
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Sep 02/02) - The Department of Fisheries and Oceans planted a sign on the walkway that leads to the Sylvia Grinnell River last month. It's a sign some people have been dreading and others have been waiting for.

NNSL Photo

Joe Joamie, 11, Levi Inookee, 10 and Jamie Pillaktuaq, 12, filled their bags with fish. They had so many that DFO officers had to drive them home. - Christine Kay/NNSL photo

The sign gives notice that effective Aug. 23, a portion of the river is closed to snagging and gill netting.

The area in question begins near Sylvia Grinnell Lake and continues past the first island after the falls.

"The fish size has been steadily decreasing and it has never recovered," explained DFO officer John McCotter.

That is part of the reason the Amarok Hunters and Trappers Association pushed for the closure. "It's a conservation and habitat issue," said association chair David Ell.

Once the HTA decided to take action, the matter was passed on to the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board for approval.

A letter from the board dated June 27 to Fisheries Minister Robert Thibault agreed and asked that the river be closed. Thibault approved the request in early August.

The decision was based in part on traditional knowledge of the fishery, as well as information gathered recently from fishers.

The most recent scientific data available for the Sylvia Grinnell River come from a study done in 1993.

DFO in Iqaluit provided advice during the process to both the wildlife management board and Thibault.

After planting the sign, McCotter and DFO officer Andrew Nakashuk walked down to the falls to give people notice. "We'll be encouraging them to leave," said McCotter.

As they walked up the rocks leading to the falls, the DFO officers could see for themselves why the action was necessary.

More than 70 fish lay on the rocks. Some were going to be taken home, but others had been discarded and piled up with garbage.

"It's awful. The fish are just being caught and left alone. This is our second time cleaning this area today. I've never seen anything like this before," said Angela Kabvitok, an Iqaluit resident who was having a picnic nearby.

McCotter spoke to the people fishing near the falls, many of whom were children.

"If we catch you down here again, we're going to charge you or bring you home to your parents," he said. "It's going to be closed for quite a while. You might be 19 when it opens again."

Jamie Pillaktuaq, 12, stayed behind with two of his friends to clean up the fish. After filling several backpacks, a garbage bag and some smaller grocery bags with the abandoned char, the boys were ready to go.

A couple of them talked about going to the causeway later to catch more fish, but Pillaktuaq said he didn't need to.

"I'm not going. I got enough. I got 40 fish and I don't need any more," he said.

The area will be closed for five years.