Tofino’s municipal council has agreed to support the continuation of the T’aaq-wiihak fisheries for the second year in a row and will encourage the federal government to conclude negotiations in good faith with the five First Nations involved.
The T’aaq-wiihak Fisheries are First Nations commercial fisheries occurring in Clayoquot Sound and Nootka Sound, according to Candace Picco, a Central Region Biologist for the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.
She said the T’aaq-wiihak fisheries were born out of a court case in Nov. 2009 that five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations won: Ahousaht, Ehattesaht, Hesquiaht, Mowachaht/Muchalaht and Tla-o-qui-aht.
“That’s really relevant to this area because three of those nations- Ahousaht, Hesquiaht and Tla-o-qui-aht-are in Clayoquot Sound,” Picco said. “Those Nations are obviously important contributors to the economy of Tofino and the Alberni Clayoquot region.”
After the court case concluded, the government of Canada and the Nations were instructed to negotiate a new fisheries regime but these negotiations are still under construction.
“On Jan. 30, 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada decided not to hear Canada’s third and final appeal,” Picco said. “Throughout the years the government of Canada has tried to appeal the decision and finally it’s finished.” The Supreme Court’s decision solidified the rights of the five Nations to fish and sell in the commercial marketplace, according to Picco.
“This is the only group of Nations in the country that has this right to fish and sell all species in their territories,” she said adding Geoduck is excluded from the list because it is considered a relatively new fishery.
The next leg of the saga will be a justification trial scheduled for March 2015 where the government will be given a chance “justify why they infringed on these Nations’ rights,” according to Picco.
“We’re hoping that will be able to be negotiated before it goes to trial but based on the way the negotiations have been going up until now, it looks like further litigation will probably occur,” she said. “So far they have not been really negotiating in good faith is how we feel.”
She said the government has only given two small fisheries to the Nations so far-a Chinook fishery and a gooseneck barnacle fishery-while the Nations have submitted detailed fishing plans for: Coho, chum, pinks, lingcod, groundfish, prawns and crabs.
“The case was quite clear in stating that these fisheries were to have a priority over the commercial and recreational fisheries,” Picco said. “That would not expand the amount of fish coming out of the ocean that would just be taking a share of the quota that already exists.”
The gooseneck barnacle fishery began in the fall of 2013 and is the only one currently occurring in North America, according to Picco who said members of the Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations are participating.
She said the biggest concern with this fishery is safety because it involves fishers jumping on and off wet rocks to harvest and added that since the fishery is unique, work needs to be done to promote the product to buyers both in Tofino and on the mainland.
The Chinook fishery celebrated a successful second season in 2013 with 54 open fishing days between April 19 and Aug 11, according to Picco.
She said the fishery made about $500,000 in 2013, which represented about twice the amount made the year before thanks to higher fish prices, more fish harvested, and increased fisher participation.
“We saw twice the number of fisherman participating so that increased opportunities for employment and also monitoring,” she said. “This is all very well monitored and recorded at the dock.”
She said one of the key successes of the fisheries is the promotion of intergenerational learning of fishing practices.
“This is really important to the Nuu-chah-nulth because there’s a lot of fear that this is going to be lost and that a lot of knowledge about how to fish and where to fish are not transferring to the younger generations because there’s no opportunity for them to fish,” Picco said.
She said the fisheries are also opening the door for First Nations to learn the ins and outs of developing and managing their own fisheries and is fostering business relationships between fishers and buyers “This is also a very well monitored fishery, almost over monitored, which is a result of it being a new fishery and DFO doesn’t really know what to expect,” Picco said.
She said the allocation the fisheries have been given to date has been small and “it is not yet a true rights-based fishery because it’s still being managed by the DFO as a regular commercial fishery.”
The Nations are hoping to develop the T’aaq-wiihak fisheries into integrated multi species fisheries.
“Rather than fishing one target species…they wanted a more holistic fishery where they could retain other species they catch and either sell or retain for home use,” Picco said.
She said the fisheries successes will bring jobs and economic growth to the West Coast and will raise the profile of Tofino.
“The Nations are very keen to work with local governments to see this fishery continue to benefit the local economy,” she said.