Seventeen months and sixteen days—that’s how much time has passed since the BC Supreme Court ruled that five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations have an aboriginal right to catch and sell any species of fish found within their territories. Since that time, negotiations for a Nuu-chah-nulth commercial fishery have moved at a slow pace, but those involved have made some progress.

“On the surface it looks pretty quiet, but people have been working hard to see results for Nuu-chah-nulth communities,” says Katie Beach, Uu-a-thluk biologist for the central region.

That hard work includes creating plans for community-based fisheries and negotiating with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to see the plans implemented. The November 3, 2009 Supreme Court decision allowed two years for negotiations between DFO and the five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations who pursued the case (collectively known as “T’aaq-wiihak,” which means fishing with permission of the Ha’wiih). Other Nuu-chah-nulth supporters have also attended the negotiation meetings.

The purpose of these meetings is twofold. First, the nations are negotiating for long-term, rights-based community fisheries, managed and enforced by Nuu-chah-nulth communities. Second, the nations are negotiating for interim fisheries access in 2011. The interim fisheries would test elements of the rights-based fisheries, allowing some fishing activity until the longer-term fisheries are implemented.

Since the outset, negotiations have been challenging. Not only has DFO been unwilling to engage in meaningful negotiations—contrary to direction given by the Court—they have also failed to give true recognition and effect to the court ruling.

One example is the Department’s reluctance to consider interim, rights-based fisheries. Despite this reluctance, T’aaq-wiihak nations have pushed to make interim fishing a reality. And that pushing may finally pay off.

 

“The Nations are expecting a proposal of 2011 fisheries any day from DFO,” said Beach. “The proposal was held up by the federal election.”

The DFO proposal should contain details for a 2011 Nuu-chah-nulth fishery in salmon and groundfish. Prawns and crabs may also be in the picture. DFO purchased the licences and quota from the commercial fishery through a program known as the Pacific Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative (PICFI). They did so within the existing constraints of Canada’s legislation governing commercial fishing.

“We expect it to be a small fishery,” Beach says. “It won’t meet everyone’s needs, but it will allow people to try out elements of the larger vision that haven’t been tried in decades.”

This includes mosquito fleets—small boats fishing near shore. It also includes community-based fisheries management.

“Nations will designate someone to enforce locally,” Beach says. “They will also work with DFO to monitor the fishery. In 2011, DFO will be involved, working with the T’aaq-wiihak Nations. Eventually management will be largely handled by the communities.”

Between now and the fishery’s opening, T’aaq-wiihak representatives will be sitting down with fish buyers, restaurant owners, and retailers to answer questions and provide more detail on the 2011 fisheries.

“We want people to know these will be carefully managed fisheries,” Beach says. “Anyone who fishes must have permission to fish from their Nation, and will have a licence designated by their fisheries department to authorize the fishing. Fishers will also be following the same regulations around boat safety and fish handling as regular commercial fishermen.”

The benefits to the local community are far-reaching, Beach adds. “Right now, a lot of benefits from the west coast fishery go to arm-chair license holders that live elsewhere, like Vancouver. The T’aaq-wiihak fisheries will bring the licenses and fishing benefits back home, whether through the leasing of boats at less busy times of the year, or more local processing…the benefits are not just for Nuu-chah-nulth.”

That’s good news for Nuu-chah-nulth fishermen and communities, who are counting the days until a deal is in place.

For more information on the T’aaq-wiihak fisheries, contact Katie Beach at 250-725-3899 or by email at Katie.Beach@nuuchahnulth.org.