Promoting Shellfish Aquaculture in BC

October 19, 2006

At a public hearing today in Victoria, Environmental Law Clinic (ELC) student Adam Driedzic and former ELC Executive Director Chris Tollefson told the Special Committee on Sustainable Aquaculture that enhancing First Nations shellfish aquaculture in BC has the potential to be win-win for the economy, for the environment, and for First Nations.

Speech to Special Committee on Sustainable Aquaculture October 19, 2006 Legislative Buildings, Victoria

We are happy to be bringing you a good news story. Shellfish Aquaculture has the potential to be win-win for the economy, for the environment, and for First Nations. If government makes wise decisions, a shellfish industry can be encouraged, which will produce major economic benefits for the province, increase economic capacity for First Nations, and become a major driver toward environmental clean-up.

Shellfish Aquaculture can take place in harmony with other coastal zone activities and values. This is a green industry. It requires clean water and cleans the water itself. This industry creates an economic incentive for addressing foreshore pollution.

This industry can provide sustainable economic development for coastal communities. Its values are compatible with other new-growth industries. For example, the eco-tourism industry shares the same interests in conservation and respect for indigenous communities.

The New Zealand Experience shows us the power of this synergy. A country with a coastline much shorter than ours supported an expansion of seven hundred percent over a ten year period and currently sustains a $150 million a year industry.

Returning to First Nations, this industry exists in harmony with the activities and values of coastal indigenous communities. First Nations have a long tradition of culturing and harvesting shellfish. Shellfish aquaculture provides an economic activity that allows for the maintenance of connections to the sea and land. First Nations have shown a strong desire to participate. The Comox Indian Band for example, in only a few years has seen its production of clams and oysters increase by leaps and bounds. What better foundation for commercial activity could there be than an existing traditional practice?

In New Zealand aboriginal people have been the leaders in growing the shellfish industry. Close to half the industry is owned or controlled by Maori interests. Many of these Maori businesses are integrated with other Maori enterprises such as wineries and eco-tourism. By statute, 20% of future shellfish tenures must be allocated to the Maori. Shellfish aquaculture has not yet received the attention it deserves from the provincial government. A multiplicity of regulators (federal, provincial, and local) make regulatory compliance difficult and costly. This complexity is particularly damaging to an industry whose producers are mostly small, local, operators, including First Nations. This industry needs smarter, simplified, more integrated regulations that will encourage small operators, particularly First Nations.

There is a precedent. The New Zealand Industry faced a similar challenge during its fledgling years. A bifurcated regulatory regime and confusion over the role of aboriginal peoples was damaging to the industry as a whole. But now New Zealand has aggressively streamlined its licensing and integrated its coastal planning to the benefit of all operators.

The future of the shellfish industry must include the participation of First Nations in a manner that recognizes and respects aboriginal rights and title in the coastal zone. We need a New Relationship vision for shellfish aquaculture. This is an industry in its infancy. The earlier the implementation of this New Relationship takes place, the easier it will come.

While the New Zealand experience provides reason for optimism about growing the industry, it also highlights potential pitfalls. In particular, it provides a warning regarding the detrimental effects of rights disputes on the economic growth and social acceptance of the industry. The ultimate lesson however, is of the great potential that emerges from a synergy of economic, environmental, and indigenous interests. If government acts wisely the industry can be enhanced, at the same time as the environment is protected and First Nations increase economic capacity.

For all of these reasons, shellfish aquaculture merits focused government attention. In fact, because the shellfishery is not fully allocated, the opportunities for creative, productive solutions are especially striking, and are perhaps greater than in other sectors. We urge you to read the paper, which elaborates the points I have outlined. It contains lessons which may help you develop your vision for shellfish. Plans have already been developed to implement a New Relationship in many other sectors. It is time to develop a creative, positive New Relationship regarding shellfish in BC. Thank you for your time today. We welcome all questions from the committee.

–Adam Driedzic, ELC Clinic student

Click to read the report...