MPA Network and Fisheries Reconciliation Agreement create hope for new opportunities

25 years from now things could look very different on the Central Coast. Ocean ecosystems could be healthier and fish populations more robust with a thriving food fishery for local people. These outcomes are some of the possible benefits from the implementation of the Government-to-Government-Government Northern Shelf Bioregion Marine Protected Area (MPA) Network process – a monumental piece of marine conservation planning that is getting closer to completion. Meanwhile with the signing of the Fisheries Resources Reconciliation Agreement (FRRA) in July of this year, our Nations can also expect to be a bigger part of local commercial fisheries in the future that are managed collaboratively by DFO and our Nations.  

With the decline in FSC harvests across numerous species over their lifetimes, our elder fishers have witnessed a major loss in our Nations’ cultural sustenance. This loss is indicative of ocean ecosystems suffering from the combined impacts of industrial fishing pressure and a changing climate, among many other factors. Engaging in the MPA process is a big part of our Nations’ approach to revitalizing the marine ecosystems we rely on and making them more resilient. 

After 7 years of work, the first draft of the proposed MPA network for the northern shelf bioregion has been released to stakeholders for review. Between now and 2021 when implementation of the MPA network will begin, there is still a lot to do. As this planning process continues to roll out, our Nations will be simultaneously contemplating the implications of the FRRA, which Coastal First Nations signed along with DFO and the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs.

Working towards collaborative fisheries management with DFO

In a news release after the signing the FRRA, the DFO website stated: “this agreement will facilitate an enhanced role in collaborative governance, and in fisheries management and decision-making processes for the Coastal First Nations.” In other words—after being left out of fisheries management decisions in our territories for decades—the government of Canada has committed to working towards more collaborative management of fisheries with our Coastal Nations. A current living example of this is the collaborative crab management pilot project between our Nations and DFO that is already underway. This project is paving a path for other collaborative fisheries management projects to follow.  

While ocean health has declined in our territories over time, our communities’ access to local commercial fisheries—and the economic benefits they provide—has also deteriorated.  As part of the FRRA, Coastal First Nations have negotiated to acquire greater economic access to commercial fisheries over the next 20 years. This means, two decades from now, Coastal First Nations will own approximately 30% of commercial fishing licences in our territories. Our Nations will be working to build our capacity to work those licenses ourselves, providing local employment for our people within small-scale community-based fisheries built around sustainable harvests within a conservation-focused management system.

A healthy ocean means healthy local fishing economy

In the same news release Chief Marilyn Slett, President of the Coastal First Nations, said “This [FRRA] agreement will get families and fishers back on the water and re-establish a small boat fleet in our communities. By working together—on a nation-to-nation basis—we will provide opportunities for our communities to fully participate in the fishing economy; create new jobs and investments; and increase economic opportunities and build capacity.”

Implementation of a world class Marine Protected Areas network in our territories, combined with the FRRA is a one-two punch for our Nations: by revitalizing marine ecosystems, the MPA network has the potential to restore the productivity and resiliency of ocean ecosystems, supporting bountiful FSC harvests, and sustainable local commercial fisheries managed collaboratively through a ground-breaking reconciliation agreement.  

Timeline to implementation

The Northern Shelf Bioregion Marine Protected Area (MPA) Network process is a government-to-government-to-government effort to create a marine protected area network within 13 bioregions in Canada, including the Central Coast of BC.

March – May
Review of stakeholder feedback and conduct Partner workshops to develop second draft of network.

June – July
Refine network scenario based on workshops and analysis.

August – October
Internal technical review and refined network scenario and network action plan.

November – December
Executive review of network scenario and draft network action plan.

January – April 2021
Stakeholder and public engagement on final scenario.

May 2021
Refine final network scenario and recommend to leadership for approval.

June 2021
Leadership review and approval of final network scenario and network action plan.

Posted by CCIRA