By Lloyd Dolha
The First Nations Fisheries Council is urging the federal government to address the current crisis in First Nations communities through a $1.3 billion dollar fisheries-related investment as part of the planned federal economic stimulus package to be released with the upcoming federal budget. “We’ve met with the minister [Gail Shea] and tabled our plan with the department of Fisheries and Oceans,” said Brenda McCorquodale, executive director for the council.
Recent downturns in the fishing industry and forest sector have left many First Nations people without jobs that qualify for unemployment insurance benefits. At the same time, the overall decline in fish stocks has meant that the majority of First Nations have not been able to gather adequate food fish resources to sustain their families and communities over the winter months. In light of this, the fisheries council is urging the government to make immediate investments in the First Nations fisheries that they hope will yield compelling results over the long term. “The government needs to take action through supporting economic initiatives that will directly benefit First Nations communities and the fisheries resource,” said council member Dr. Michelle Corfield. “The package which the First Nations Fisheries Council is proposing will address this need.” They are seeking an immediate investment of $20 to $40 million over the next five years in fisheries-related job creation initiatives to help their people gain employment in supporting the fisheries which has traditionally been an integral part of their culture and lifestyle.
The council wants creation initiatives that include elements of fisheries stewardship, such as inventories of local resources and endangered species, improvements to local habitats, and monitoring. Such an investment these communities could yield long-term benefits in terms of facilitating First Nations attachment and understanding of their local resources, as well as supporting local economies at the community level.
The council also hopes for significant investment in collaborative management. Numerous government policy initiatives over the years have engaged First Nations in the development of a framework in which First Nations manage fisheries resources. A new co-management framework is necessary for First Nations to create stability in the effective management of the fisheries resources on the Pacific coast and in interior communities. To further this initiative, the council is seeking a one-time stimulus investment in the amount of $195 million toward fisheries infrastructure for First Nations fisheries management bodies. This would include materials and equipment infrastructure such as weirs, vessel upgrading, and processing capacity to be delivered through B.C. First Nations organizations.
The council is urging the federal government to invest in Centres of Expertise in First Nations Fisheries programs. That program makes funds available to First Nations with a proven track record of leadership in particular areas of fisheries. The council seeks an investment of $2.5 million to establish ten Centres of Excellence managed directly by First Nations. The council also wants the federal government to kick-start a Guardian and First Nations Officer initiative with a modest investment of $1million. That program, which empowers officers to enforce DFO conservation bylaws, has languished in recent years as no new funds for training has been allocated in several years and the number of trained officers or guardians has dwindled.
The council is also seeking an additional $900 million to increase First Nations participation in Pacific commercial fisheries through the purchase of commercial licenses. Their position is that the government needs to target the transfer of a minimum of 50 percent of commercial access to First Nations.
Finally, the council is seeking an investment of $5 million for training in new Marine Safety requirements that were recently introduced. That mandatory training is expensive and largely inaccessible to First Nations who live in remote coastal communities. They estimate that there are 3,000 to 5,000 First Nations people who will be non-compliant with the regulations because they cannot access adequate training.
Chief Doug Kelly challenged the Harper government to work with opposition leaders in order to develop a budget that meets the needs of all Canadians. “We have been encouraged by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s comments that the federal budget must meet the needs of the most vulnerable Canadians,” said Kelly. “No other group faces the weight of challenges that currently burden First Nations communities.”