Campbell River, Feb 10, 2023 — Canada, BC, and 15 First Nations, the governing partners of the Northern Shelf Bioregion Marine Protected Area Network proposal, have officially announced their endorsement of the Network Action Plan for the MPA at the IMPAC5 Forum this week in Vancouver.
The Northern Shelf Bioregion encompasses 2/3rds of BC’s coast, from Campbell River to the Alaskan Border, with the MPA Network plan claiming 40% of that area for protection. With objectives stated for both conservation and reconciliation, the MPA Network will see closures for a wide variety of purpose, ranging from protection of habitat and migration corridors to protection of areas of First Nations’ cultural significance.
First Nations’ Food, Social and Ceremonial Commercial fisheries will not be affected by the MPA Network but the future of commercial and recreational fisheries in each of the 277 MPA plan areas remains unclear. Management measures to address what fisheries will be permitted in each of the distinct areas are now to be determined in part by DFO’s assessment of protection targets in the context of each fishery’s activity.
“The fear is that many harvesters, most who are 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th generation fishers, will be forced out of the areas they traditionally fish, with no choice but to either crowd into another area or to leave the fishing industry altogether. The resulting concentration of fishing effort in the areas left open will result in shorter fishery openings and reduced catch — a blow to the bottom line that many would not survive. Our hope is that we can move toward open conversations with First Nations about common goals and strengthen the relationship between First Nations and small-scale fish harvesters. Our role in this monumental initiative is to work collaboratively with harvesters,” UFAWU President James Lawson says.
UFAWU Business Agent Emily Orr has been representing commercial fish harvesters throughout the Stakeholder Engagement of the Northern Shelf Bioregion MPA proposal and has been closely linked to the project in that capacity for more than four years.
“Stakeholders, in this case commercial fish harvesters, were provided an opportunity to review the nearly 300 distinct areas slated for potential commercial fisheries closures using an interactive chart program. Harvesters made location-specific requests for slight boundary adjustments and in some cases proposed alternative areas for closures to allow for sustainable and well-managed fisheries to occur in concert with the protection measures. These inputs were crafted meticulously, with dutiful inspection and consideration of the MPA protection targets,” Orr says.
“The premise is that if we provide feedback and work together inside of the process, that the finished product will reflect that collaboration. Without management measures included in the current draft scenario, it remains unclear what the extent of the impact will be on commercial fisheries access. Our aspirations at this stage are to collaborate on the unfinished terms of this plan with the Governing Partners and our small-scale fish harvesters.”
Conservation and sustainability are cornerstones of viable fisheries, and arguably matter most to commercial fish harvesters. Commercial fisheries in Canada are already subject to DFO’s precautionary approach framework; management measures to control fishing effort, manage fish stocks, and facilitate closure areas for protection of habitat are all part of that existing approach.
“It is possible to balance fish and habitat conservation with preservation of our fisheries economy — this requires the inclusion and input of the commercial fishing community,” Orr says.
The UFAWU remains hopeful that the MPA Network design will reflect the critical role of BC’s sustainable seafood sector in our Province’s food security and for the health of its coastal communities, and looks toward engaging collaboratively in the spirit of co-governance as Canada approaches a new era of fisheries management.
Public engagement on the Northern Shelf Bioregion MPA Network occurred in September and November of 2022, giving two months to the broader coastal community to respond to the MPA plan.
For more information or to schedule an interview with a spokesperson, please contact UFAWU-Unifor Communications Organizer Liam Hill-Allan at firstname.lastname@example.org.