Privatization of Nanaimo Marina compromises First Nations access to marine resources | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

Privatization of Nanaimo Marina compromises First Nations access to marine resources


First Nations in British Columbia are heavily reliant on the marine environment for their traditional food needs. Access to those marine resources is protected by Canadian legislation, with the right to FSC (food, social and ceremonial) fish coming second only to conservation in priority.

The proposal to privatize and develop a new marina in the Nanaimo Harbour threatens First Nations’ access to FSC fish. It imposes unreasonable new operating costs that will dislocate fishers currently using the marina on a permanent basis. It will reduce or stop temporary use of the harbour by transient FSC fishers and will limit the local Community access to traditional food resources.

Public harbours and marinas provide crucial support to First Nations’ fishing operations and assist in overcoming the barriers faced in acquiring FSC resources, including the financial impediment associated with maintaining a fishing vessel to be able to obtain FSC fish. Fishers and the communities therefore are keenly dependent on public harbours and marinas to provide a location to store their vessels when not in use, and to serve as offload sites to ensure the FSC fish are properly shared within the community.

Without a fair, public and affordable place to moor their fishing vessels and offload their catches, First Nation fishermen are further disadvantaged and alienated from their fishing culture. The new marina proposal will undermine the existing use of the Nanaimo harbour by First Nations FSC fishing vessels, which will be unable to support its substantial increased moorage costs. Fishers will be forced to relocate their vessels outside of their traditional fishing area. Local fishers not able to stay in the Nanaimo marina because of insupportable costs will have to travel greater distances to fish in their fishing areas. This will, in effect, alienate the local First Nations from their traditional, usual and accustomed fishing sites; cut them off from fishing locations that would have otherwise been available.

Further, some fishers require temporary or transient moorage to support longer distance trips, for rest breaks and to offload perishable catches for their communities. The availability of affordable and ‘commercial vessel friendly’ public marinas is critical to ensure the safety of fishers and to support the integral needs of coastal First Nation communities.

We call on the Nanaimo Port Authority to look to its obligations under Canadian law and re-evaluate the proposal to privatize the Nanaimo marina. In that proposal there has been no consideration given to the constitutionally-protected rights of First Nations for access to FSC fish. The much higher costs associated with using the new marina will impose unsustainable financial costs on First Nations operating vessels acquiring FSC fish.  Removing use of the marina will seriously compromise affordable access to FSC fish.

Background and key considerations about the First Nations Food, Social and Ceremonial Fishery 

·         Access to FSC is protected under Canadian legislation, and serves as a key foundation supporting social structures and cultural practices of First Nations Communities.

·         Fish obtained for FSC purposes are critical to ensure the community can continue to embrace, learn and share the traditional cultural practices of feasting and providing for the whole community.

·         With the historical decline in the wild commercial capture fisheries, the ability to maintain the fishing fleet is becoming increasingly difficult. The difficulties are compounded in the Aboriginal fisheries as individual fishers rarely have the means to ‘own’ commercial fishing access and are dependent on government buy back programs and policies for their fishing allocations on a year-by-year basis. This creates an uncertain environment where fishers can no longer rely on the commercial fisheries for certainty and security of their livelihood. However, working and ready fishing vessels are still required to access FSC fish in order to feed the needs of First Nation communities.

·         Fish obtained for FSC purposes are very different from fish obtained through a commercial license which can be sold into the marketplace. FSC fish are not an income generator for First Nation fishers. Nations designate set fisher(s) to obtain the FSC needs of the community. Traditionally the fishers are from a fishing family, and have been charged with feeding the community for many generations. When fishers go out for FSC fish, they do so not for financial gain but for community gain. For example, most Nations pay designated fishers a nominal amount for FSC fish. The revenues received from FSC fishing can cover boat costs (fuel, gear, deckhand wages) but do not serve as a significant source of revenue for the fisher.

·         A First Nation FSC fishery is key to the personal wellbeing of the fisher, but also the overall wellbeing of the community through the services the fishers provide.

·         The new development will further alienate the local First Nations from their traditional fishing sites. At present the Nanaimo marina is an important location for the operation of vessels fishing FSC fish for local communities; however, it also serves as a crucial conduit or access point to the adjacent marine resources. Local fishers not able to stay in the Nanaimo marina because of insupportable costs will have to travel greater distances from where their boats are now moored to fish in their usual and accustomed fishing areas. 

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