A recent study that indicates First Nations fisheries’ catch could decline as much as 50 per cent by 2050 due to climate change is just one more factor that will impact food and economic security for British Columbia’s coastal First Nations.
The findings of the study, conducted by scientists with the Nereus Program, an international research team led by scientists at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, do not come as a shock to Ken Malloway, chair of the First Nations Fisheries Council of B.C.
“I’ve been at it for a long time and we’ve been talking about climate change and things like that for an awful long time and it seems like it’s here now and really happening,” he said. “Climate change is not something new.”
The study, published in January in PLOS ONE, says that most of the 98 “culturally and commercially important” species of fish and shellfish in the northeast Pacific would be affected by climate change.
According to the research team, southern communities, such as the Tsawwassen and Maa-nulth Nations, are likely to be most severely impacted, but all communities are likely to encounter declines in traditional resources, including decreases in catch by up to 29 per cent for species of salmon and up to 49 per cent for herring by 2050.
The economic loss for coastal First Nations, says the study, could run between $6.7 and $12 million annually by 2050.
This study is one of the few that focuses on the implications of climate change on Indigenous communities.
But First Nations don’t have to wait until 2050 for either their culture or their livelihoods to be impacted. It’s happening now, sair Malloway.
First Nations are already being hurt, both commercially and ceremonially, by existing quotas and allocations on a variety of species, as well as no longer being able to fish for other species. Malloway remembers a time when commercial fishing was a lucrative industry for First Nations. He says coastal First Nations are being squeezed out of the commercial fisheries by non-Aboriginal commercial operations, as well as recreational fishing.
“If the government doesn’t go by the law, we’re not going to get any fish,” said Malloway.
Malloway points to the 1990 Sparrow decision which, he says, the government is not abiding by. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that, despite nearly a century of governmental regulations and restrictions on Musqueam’s right to fish, their Aboriginal right to fish had not been extinguished.
“That decision basically said that First Nations have Aboriginal rights to fish for food, social needs and ceremonial needs. It says in Sparrow that if there’s not enough fish to go around, (if) not enough fish to sustain First Nations’ needs, then there won’t be any fishing going on,” said Malloway. “That’s not what’s happening.”
Malloway is hopeful that changes will come about under the new federal Liberal government and that hope is buoyed by the appointment of Hunter Tootoo as the minister of Fisheries and Oceans.
Tootoo delivered an address in December at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly.
“When he talked about fishing rights … he talked about ‘us’ and our Aboriginal rights and our Aboriginal title and things like that. That’s the first time we’ve ever heard a minster of Fisheries saying ‘us,’” said Malloway. “We’re hoping we can expect more from the Trudeau government.”
Malloway has been impressed with Tootoo’s open line of communication. FNFC met with Tootoo in December and another meeting is planned for mid-February.
“We want him to make sure that First Nations have priority as far as fishing goes. Right now we don’t enjoy that priority,” said Malloway.
Malloway would also like to see more Aboriginal voices on the various existing panels, committees and commissions, which deal with fisheries issues. Barring that, he’d like to return to a practise implemented by a former Liberal fisheries’ minister, who established a minister’s advisory committee, which set Indigenous representation at 50 per cent plus one.
“We reminded (Tootoo) that we had a very good relationship with the Liberal government in those day and that we’ve been suffering under the Harper government since (Harper) got in,” said Malloway.