Nuu-chah-nulth Nations and DFO work towards modernizing the west coast Vancouver Island clam fishery

According to ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, change is the only constant in life, and in the case of the west coast Vancouver Island (WCVI) intertidal clam fishery, there is an abundance of change in the works.

Nuu-chah-nulth Nations and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) are working collaboratively to modernize intertidal clam licencing, monitoring and management; the changes will see benefits to Nuu-chah-nulth-aht participating in the fishery and hopefully attract the next generation of harvesters.

Nuu-chah-nulth peoples have harvested clams for centuries on WCVI, and the area has supported a commercial clam fishery for over 100 years. The current commercial clam licensing system in British Columbia was established in 1989 (Z2 licences), with licence limitations for Z2s and the introduction of  First Nations Aboriginal Commercial Clam Licences (Z2ACL licences). Nuu-chah-nulth Nations negotiated with DFO for 237 Z2ACLs between the 14 Nations.

Under the current system, an individual fishing a Z2ACL from their Nation is required to pay a $30 licence fee and $60 for a Fisher Registration Card, but this will no longer be the case if DFO’s proposed licencing reform to put Z2ACLs under a Nation’s Aboriginal Commercial Communal Licence goes through.

“The hope is, that if we can change the authority of this licence – and it can be done – it would allow the First Nations to designate individuals to go out and harvest without having to pay the fee, hopefully renewing interest in the fishery itself,” said Dave Fogtmann, South Coast Resource Manager for DFO, at the October Council of Ha’wiih Forum on Fisheries.

Fogtmann was referring to the proposed change in authority for Z2ACL licences from the Fishery General Regulations to the Aboriginal Communal Fishing Licence Regulations, which Nuu-chah-nulth Nations expressed unanimous support for at the October forum.

Conversely, the Nations stated their concern for the second proposed change to clam licencing. The DFO would like to allow for transferability of Z2 licences (regular commercial clam licences), meaning licence holders would be free to sell their licences. The Nations are worried this would have a detrimental impact on the resource.

While concerned, the Nations are willing to discuss what transferability could mean in Area F (WCVI), with the caveat that transferability could be defined differently in each clam management area.

As the work on licencing reform moves forward, Nuu-chah-nulth Nations and DFO are also working on developing a new intertidal clam monitoring program for WCVI.

The initiative stems from the June 2019 changes to the federal Fisheries Act under Bill C-68 which state that major fish stocks (which intertidal clams have been identified as) must have a ‘limit reference point’ that will ensure the health of the stock does not decline past a point that could cause it serious harm.

The department has proposed the monitoring of ‘indicator beaches’ which would provide an overview for the entire clam population of the area. The beaches would be chosen based on productivity; only productive clam beaches would qualify as indicators.

Uu-a-thluk regional biologists Jim Lane and Roger Dunlop have concerns about the approach.

“Monitoring costs will be high if the department goes with its standard intertidal clam stock assessment process,” remarked Lane.

Lane added that monitoring efforts in the Area F Clam Management Area (CMA) will be more complex than the other CMAs due to its four distinct Sounds (Clayoquot, Kyuquot, Nootka and Barclay) and the unique clam production conditions within each Sound.

Discussions around the intertidal clam monitoring continue to take place through the Uu-a-thluk Joint Technical Working Group meetings with DFO, as well as through the department’s online feedback process.

The third and final facet of proposed changes to the intertidal clam fishery on WCVI is a revamp of the management approach.

 At the October Forum on Fisheries, Fogtmann introduced the idea of a collaborative Nuu-chah-nulth/DFO WCVI clam management team. Nuu-chah-nulth Nations’ fisheries managers would drive the management effort (which would include a consistent biotoxin monitoring program in conjunction with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency), and communicate regularly with DFO about the work taking place.

The goal is that the new management approach would assist in creating more predictable fishing plans for clam harvesters, and more certainty in the fishery overall.

While still in the developmental stage, the proposed changes to the WCVI intertidal clam fishery, if accepted by both sides, would ideally be ready for the next three-year clam management plan cycle beginning in 2022.

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