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Kervin’s Corner: DFO designates possible protection management zone near Haida Gwaii, North Island – Fishing industry reacts with petition

‘Many local skippers claim they were not consulted on the issue.’

Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) published a marine chart on November 30, 2017, “Draft Gwaii Haanas Marine Zoning Proposal.”

The chart was intended to gather input from the fishing industry, First Nations, and other stakeholders who may be affected by the rezoning. Many local skippers claim they were not consulted on the issue.

In fact, the protection management zone (PMZ) caused such a public stir that one Port Hardy resident started an online petition to raise awareness and to possibly lobby the federal government to rethink the decision. As of February 1, 2018 the online petition has garnered nearly 1,000 signatures within two weeks.

Implementing the PMZ would effectively rezone many fishing areas – shellfish, crabs, gooey ducks, sea urchin, prawns, salmon, black cod, lingcod, rockfish, and halibut. Those who work in the fishing industry worry the rezoning would limit their access to these spots scattered along the strait.

In other words, those who signed the petition fear that the rezoning will put them out of business – stifling their already razor-thin operating margins.

DFO has further plans following the first stage of rezoning, according to an internal Haida Gwaii administration Marine Plan released in 2015. The document illustrates three options – high, medium and low management – for the PMZ on a marine chart. It seems public outrage from the fishing industry stems from the lack of consultation on the issue.

Let me be clear – it isn’t just the fishing industry that will feel the impact; surrounding First Nations, many of whom are involved in the marine sector, will also face economic barriers because of the PMZ. First Nations and non-Indigenous businesses alike, ranging from transportation, marine farms, or just commercial fishing, will stand to lose.

In fact, if the PMZ goes through with full force the area will rezone roughly 10.3 percent for DFO conservation. It is unknown whether commercial fishing can still take place within these protected zones. While it does state “limited activities can occur in these areas,” it is unclear whether “public commercial recreation and tourism” includes commercial fishing.

The zones of most concern, of course, are located near Gwaii Haanas Offshore and Northwest Queen Charlotte Strait – in between the bottom of Haida Gwaii and the northern tip of North Vancouver Island, specifically Cape St. James or Queen Charlotte Sound.

Following through with the PMZ, these areas will then be protected as an IUNC Category B. While it is admirable to rezone these areas to protect our ecosystems, it would also mean driving commercial fishermen out of business.

More so, these documents state they are making an effort to consult government-to-government, but let’s not forget that doesn’t mean dialogue should be limited to Haida Gwaii and Canada. Discussion needs to take place with nearby First Nations – government-to-government-to-government, so to say. It certainly should include the fishing industry, too.

These charts are intended for discussion only and have no legal impact as of yet – DFO still waiting on formal reviews on the matter. Let’s just hope it favors a compromise for all First Nations in the area and the fishing industry, rather than drawing a line in the sand.

In the case that a formal review finds that these zones would benefit from a category B designation, then that’d mean all commercial fishing businesses are to fill out even more applications. However, doing so doesn’t guarantee they’d meet the management bodies’ standards to fish in those areas.

Let’s hope that further regulation won’t drive out commercial business in an already wavering marine sector.

Thomas Kervin is a recent political science alumnus from Simon Fraser University. He was born and raised in Port Hardy. He’s also a First Nations person who wants to address issues facing Indigenous communities today.

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