Crab pilot project a positive step towards collaborative fisheries management

Together, the project partners conducted an extensive assessment of current crab science. This included the science our Nations have conducted within our territories that incorporates our Indigenous and local knowledge. This illustrates DFO’s willingness to accept Indigenous knowledge and Western science as complementary ways of knowing…

In the 1990’s people from our Nations could go crab fishing on the Central Coast and with just four traps catch 30-40 Dungeness crab in a day. But with the increase in commercial and recreational fishing in our territories, that kind of catch is now rare, and it is difficult for our Nations to meet our crab needs.

To address these concerns, DFO and the Central Coast Nations engaged in a pilot project in 2017 to create a collaborative decision-making structure (or government-to-government protocol) for managing Dungeness crab in our territories. We reported on this in our April 2017 newsletter, and now, two years into the pilot, we are achieving meaningful progress.

Pilot project accomplishments

It is no secret that our Nations and DFO have not always seen eye to eye on fisheries management issues. “When we first started this project, it felt like an ‘us and them’ approach by DFO,” says Mike Reid, Heiltsuk’s Aquatics Manager. “But things are definitely better now,” he explains, noting that DFO’s regional staff and the Central Coast Nations are working really well together. “DFO is showing a willingness to leave their comfort zone to make this collaboration work,” says Mike. This, in itself, is a major accomplishment and our Nations commend DFO for the efforts they are making.

DFO and our Nations sometimes have different ideas about what makes a fishery sustainable. For example, DFO science may suggest a particular population is stable and not declining. But to our Nations this may not mean it is healthy in relation to our historical knowledge of that population and its ability to support the ecosystem and our FSC needs. Taking this more holistic view has helped form management goals that reflect sustainable crab populations on the Central Coast.

Other notable accomplishments thus far include four new commercial crab fishing closures within our territories, and an agreement on how science conducted by DFO and our Nations will be integrated together to improve sustainability and increase our access to crab for FSC purposes.

Importantly a co-led process for engaging commercial and recreational crab fishermen has also been developed and we are working with DFO to engage with these sectors. “Nobody wants to see the crab stocks depleted,” says Mike. “For the commercial fishermen, their livelihood depends on it,” adding that recreational fishers have also been supportive of measures to make the fishery more sustainable.

Consensus is the key

From the project’s inception, a collaborative approach between our Nations and DFO has been the foundation of the work, extending from how science is done and how it informs management, to influencing the recommendations made to leadership that will inform their decisions.

Here is how it works:

Think of the decision-making process of this pilot project as a ladder. The bottom rung is a technical working group made up of fisheries managers from DFO and our Nations. On the second rung is a steering committee composed of DFO and First Nations senior management. On the third rung is a joint executive. What makes this ladder unique is that recommendations cannot be passed up to the next rung until there is consensus between our Nations and DFO.

Ultimately, recommendations are given to the DFO Minister and our Nations’ leadership independently and those leaders make the final decisions. If there is disagreement on the outcome, then there is a process for leadership to work towards resolving disagreements (Figure 1).

A flow chart: Governance schematic for collaborative crab management on the Central Coast.

Figure 1. Governance schematic for collaborative crab management on the Central Coast.

Reaching consensus at each stage—or rung—has not been easy; it has forced everybody to think about problems in new ways. This makes people uncomfortable, but also leads to new ways of knowing, stretching people to think of new solutions that all parties are comfortable with—something that often seemed impossible to achieve in the past.

Over the last two years the following themes have emerged that serve as examples for how the work is progressing as a whole.

A man in a dark green, full body waterproof suit is standing on the edge of a boat, using his shins to brace himself against the edge of the boat, and lifting a large crab trap. The ocean and distant mountains are visible to the right.

Keith Windsor conducting crab research in Nuxalk Territory.

Collaboration increases comfort

Our Nations have not always been comfortable sharing our knowledge with DFO because they were not sure how that information was going to be used. However, because fisheries managers from our Nations and DFO are working together to make management recommendations, our people are more confident sharing important knowledge because they retain control over how it is being used.

Assessing sustainability together

DFO and our Nations sometimes have different ideas about what makes a fishery sustainable. For example, DFO science may suggest a particular population is stable and not declining. But to our Nations this may not mean it is healthy in relation to our historical knowledge of that population and its ability to support the ecosystem and our FSC needs. Taking this more holistic view has helped form management goals that reflect sustainable crab populations on the Central Coast.

Shared Science is good science

Together, the project partners conducted an extensive assessment of current crab science. This included the science our Nations have conducted within our territories that incorporates our Indigenous and local knowledge. This illustrates DFO’s willingness to accept Indigenous knowledge and Western science as complementary ways of knowing, while generating a collaborative understanding of the crab fishery that is enriched by that collective knowledge.

What’s next?

As a pilot project for fisheries reconciliation and collaborative governance, lessons from this work will be adapted to other fisheries. In fact, they have already been used to review effectiveness of rockfish conservation areas, and in the Heiltsuk Nation’s negotiations with DFO on herring management.

In the meantime, there is a lot left to do. We are talking about creating a new paradigm, reimagining the future of fisheries management in a way that gives our Nations a meaningful role in decisions that affect us. It is not going to happen overnight. And yet, here we are, inching closer towards that goal.

A man in a dark raincoat and cap is looking over the side of a boat, and there are two men behind him also on the boat. The water looks grey, and there are trees in the distance on the right.

Gord Moody, Josh Vickers, and Patrick Johnson conducting crab surveys in Wuikinuxv territory.

Posted by CCIRA

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Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance

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