Members of the Nanoose First Nation, as well a number of other First Nations along the Salish Sea, are hoping to expand their economic horizons through commercial fishing.
The Nanoose band partnered with the Malahat, Tsawout, Beecher Bay and T'Sou-ke First Nations six years ago to form Salish Strait Seafoods to take advantage of local opportunities in the commercial fisheries.
The initiative was part of the federal government's Pacific Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative, announced in 2007, and aimed at achieving environmentally sustainable and economically viable commercial fisheries where conservation was the first priority and First Nations' aspirations to be more involved were to be supported.
Dan Claxton, president of Salish Strait Seafoods, said much of the first five years of the company's existence were spent putting together the infrastructure to participate in the fisheries and training people from the involved First Nations to fish a variety of species.
He said that many years ago, First Nation fishermen played a "huge role" in the province's commercial fisheries, particularly the salmon industry, but due to increasingly inconsistent salmon returns over the years and other factors, First Nation fishermen began to play smaller roles in the fisheries.
Claxton said it's hoped that Salish Strait Seafoods will begin to turn that trend around and just had two of the company's three commercial fishing vessels participate in the seasonal prawn fishery, employing six First Nation fishermen as well as a three more workers at its ice plant in the Tsawout First Nation reserve near Sidney.
He said the company currently has licences to commercially fish for herring, prawns, crab, black cod, halibut and urchins.
More than a dozen First Nations members are now certified to work as commercial fishing crew and another 12 are expected to be certified as commercial divers in the near future. Claxton said up to six members of the Nanoose band are working on acquiring commercial diving certificates to take advantage of the crab, urchins and geoduct resources in their local waters.
"It's been a long process to get to the stage that we're at now, but our objective is to continue to grow the business and create more jobs," he said.
"A lot of the First Nations that are members of the company, including the Nanoose First Nation, have their own tenures on various species that will play a part in the company's growth."
With a land base in its reserve near Nanaimo of just 54 hectares, the Nanoose First Nation has been looking for means to increase economic opportunities for its members for years, including logging activities on nearby land.
Nanoose First Nation spokesman Brent Edwards declined to be interviewed on the issue Wednesday.
"The company will be harvesting, packing and distributing various B.C. seafoods with a focus on sustainability and enhancement of the resources," Claxton said.
"Our five First Nations have a long history of being marine stewards of southern Vancouver Island waters. Now we are recovering our commercial fishing capacity."
© Copyright 2013