NVI Sub-region probes shellfish aquaculture, guardian programs, and economic development

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At the Tlowitsis Nation village site on Turnour Island, Guardians in training explore how drones can be used for conservation monitoring. The opportunities and challenges associated with these programs were the focus of a recently completed study—one of three that were commissioned as part of MaPP implementation in North Vancouver Island. Photo credit: Scott Harris.

MaPP co-leads in the North Vancouver Island (NVI) Marine Plan area are carefully reviewing a trio of newly completed reports that suggest critical roles for First Nations in economic development and conservation activities.

“These studies show that we’re serious about implementing this plan, and that there are economic opportunities for everyone here—even in stewardship,” says John Bones. As marine coordinator for the Nanwakolas Council, he helped design the scopes of work for the reports, which were completed as part of MaPP implementation in this sub-region.

One report explores opportunities for development of key sectors: coastal forestry, seafood processing and marketing, research and monitoring, marine-based renewable energy, aquaculture and tourism. It suggests actions to advance them and ranks these by potential impact, approximate cost and time frame.

It offers no “silver bullet” solutions but suggests many opportunities could be unlocked by greater collaboration, both among First Nations communities and between aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities. It identifies ways to strengthen individual communities’ access to economic development expertise and to bolster connections among economic development experts (and investors) in communities around the sub-region. It also recommends development of an NVI economic development plan to identify synergies between multiple local planning processes.

Tourism is seen as especially promising. Low-cost actions with potentially high impact include greater cooperation between MaPP partners and Vancouver Island North Tourism, development of aboriginal and cultural tourism, and better promotion to international markets of the sub-region as a whole.

Shellfish aquaculture is the focus of a second report. It analyzes biophysical capabilities of 22 areas that the NVI Marine Plan zones for Special Management–Cultural/Economic Emphasis, using extensive datasets from government and salmon farms in the region. It also considers factors like nearness to services and labour, and likelihood of local acceptance.

The result? “Shellfish aquaculture could supply some local markets, but large-scale commercial aquaculture of Pacific oysters or Manila clams probably won’t fly in North Vancouver Island,” says Bones, citing the key obstacle: frigid waters. “But it does suggest potential for aquaculture of blue mussels, and kelp for huge Asian markets.”

Four areas are flagged for deeper investigation: Booker Lagoon, Kalogwis, Minstrel Island/Call Inlet/Havanna Channel, and Port Neville. Pilot-scale projects, adapted from models used by other First Nations to identify viable growing sites and train people, are recommended.

A third report investigates opportunities to power up the five guardian programs that make up the sub-region’s Ha-ma-yas Stewardship Network. They and their counterparts in other MaPP sub-regions engage First Nations in activities that support conservation and resource management.

The report lauds the “significant progress” of Ha-ma-yas and recommends partnerships with relevant B.C. government agencies. For example, guardian watchmen could conduct joint patrols with conservation officers and park rangers. Opportunities for collaboration could be explored by B.C. Parks, the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations’ archaeological branch, and Nanwakolas member nations that have conservancy agreements and marine protected areas.

Provincial government staff interviewed by the researchers identified several potential barriers to collaboration with guardian watchmen programs, including complexities associated with overlapping territories.

Andy Witt, the B.C. government MaPP co-lead for NVI, sees scope for the Guardian Program to support implementation of the NVI Marine Plan. “To capitalize on the opportunities identified in the report, the key challenges for the MaPP partners to address are issues associated with liability, personal safety, and provincial jurisdictional limitations in the marine environment,” says Witt.

In fact, all provincial interviewees viewed collaboration with guardian watchmen positively in the areas of ecological monitoring; compliance promotion through presence on the water to “observe, record and report”; and provision of data to support enforcement activities. They stressed the importance of building trust and relationships through joint actions as a starting point.

Bones is hopeful about possibilities. “We really appreciated that B.C. government tenuring agencies were so supportive of this study and so forthcoming with the researchers, and that B.C. Parks seems quite open to exploring a bigger role for guardian watchmen,” he says.

The three reports were shared at a MaPP implementation advisory committee meeting in October 2016.

Putting diving on the MaPP map

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A Red Irish Lord at Browning Pass

A rock wall in the waters off the Northern tip of Vancouver Island is world famous – at least to a select group of people in dry suits. Scuba divers come from all over the world to dive the wall at Browning Pass and other remarkable sites near Port Hardy.

Browning wall is a sheer rock face, about a block long that starts some 30 metres above the water line and plunges steeply to a boulder-strewn sea floor at about 40 metres deep. It is densely populated and teeming with marine life. “You could spend 50 minutes underwater just looking at one metre square,” diving enthusiast Gary Marcuse says. “The more you look, the more you realize there are layers of plants and animals and tiny little fish.”

Scuba Diving Magazine Divers’ Choice Awards has consistently ranked British Columbia as a top diving destination in North America. “The more I was diving elsewhere in the world, the more I realized that right in our back yard, in the Queen Charlotte Sound area, we have this extraordinary collection of mini ecosystems,“ Marcuse says.

Back in October 2012, Marcuse was overnighting in a hotel in Port Hardy before catching a boat to a dive location. He was lured into a meeting room by a plate of cookies and walls covered by maps. He had happened upon the first open house for the MaPP North Vancouver Island sub-region.

In addition to being an avid recreational diver, Marcuse is a documentary film and television producer. However, it was his master’s degree in regional environmental planning that drew him to the marine planning maps and he quickly said, “Where are the dive sites?”

That question eventually led him and Paul Sim of the Underwater Council of BC (UCBC) to Alan Thomson and Nick Heath, the public recreation representatives on the North Vancouver Island (NVI) Marine Plan Advisory Committee.

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Glove sponges and soft red corals at Browning Pass

Thomson saw that Marcuse offered both a planning background and connections to the diving community through UCBC, a non-profit society that provides a voice for B.C. recreational divers and promotes safe scuba diving and environmental protection. Using advisory committee support funds, Thomson arranged a modest consulting fee for Marcuse to develop a report that identified more than 120 dive sites in the NVI sub-region and more in the Haida Gwaii sub-region. In addition, other divers contributed stunning video and photographs.

Marcuse recorded his dive site information in the BC Marine Conservation Analysis (BCMCA) database, which more than doubled the dive sites included in the database at that time. The BCMCA is one of many data sources for the MaPP marine planning portal, a sophisticated planning tool that allows users to look at many different data layers together to learn more about the MaPP study area.

Thomson says that without the report from Marcuse and the UCBC, there would be less information about diving in the NVI Draft Marine Plan. “So I think their report added depth and scope to the draft marine plan and also added information to databases such as the BCMCA.” He adds, “Mustering the facts and providing them in their report can only help to put recreational diving on the map and inform decision-makers about the possible consequences of choosing one course over another.”

“I like to think of divers as explorers in the marine ecosystems,” Marcuse says. “Divers are putting red flags on the map wherever they discover vital and abundant life.”

Clams thrive in ancient stone gardens

NVI-ClamGardenAncient and mysterious treasures can be found on the B.C. coast – if you know where to look for them.

They are the luxiwey (pronounced: lok-hee-way) of the I’waxstay yas Gwayasdums (Broughton Archipelago) – clam gardens created by First Nations people thousands of years ago and revealed to Westerners only in the last 15 years.

The gardens – 470 of them in the Broughton Archipelago alone – are human-built terraces, made from rocks. The terraces are parallel to the lower waterline and built up so that they are one meter above the low tide level. This causes sediment to accumulate in the best possible way for filter-feeding clams.

The name luxiwey refers to the way in which the rocks were moved to the low water mark and then formed into a wall. Some are simply stones that were thrown; others are boulders that were rolled into place. The wall, and resulting silt build-up also allowed for access to the clams at higher low tides.

Daisy Sewid-Smith, a First Nations educator and historian, describes the re-discovery of the gardens by marine geologist John Harper. “For eight years he’d been studying them and travelling up and down the coast trying to find out who made them and for what purpose.”  Some people said they were natural occurrences while others described them as fish traps but Harper thought they were different from any fish trap he’d ever seen. Finally, Kwakwaka’wakw Chief Adam Dick told Harper the true story.

The gardens, which are found all along the B.C. North Pacific coastline, cause clams to grow more vigorously, in the same way that tilling a field might help grow corn more productively. And the regular harvesting of the clams even contributes to this process, helping to keep the grounds well aerated.

Hereditary Clan chief Harold Sewid of the Weumusgem clan of the Qwe’Qwa’Sot’em First Nation says the work of building the gardens was done by individual families, centuries ago. “Some of these gardens have huge boulders rolled out to the edge with poles,” he says. “A lot of work was involved but the clams were a very important part of survival for my people. There were times when the salmon didn’t return to their rivers for up to 20 years and my people relied on clams more heavily.”

“The shellfish were not only food for our people for thousands of years,” Chief Sewid says. “But they were also used for barter – a source of income, as they can be today.”

Chief Sewid predicts a “goldrush of shellfish users” moving into this territory and wants to ensure that First Nations interests are protected. “They try to say these gardens were ‘discovered’,” he says, “but our people always knew they were there.”

Paddling adventures – a Northern B.C. export product

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Back when Rick Snowdon was a full-time adventure guide he led an unforgettable trip with, among others, an Italian student who was soon to embark on his Ph.D. in nuclear physics.

“It was our last night,” Snowdon recalls. “We were waiting for the darkness so we could see the bioluminescence, and the student turned to me and said, ‘You know Rick, this has been the best week of my life.’”

There’s a word for the kind of high-end outdoors experience that Snowdon provides. It’s called glamping – a seductive blend of both “glamour” and “camping.” Customers of Spirit of the West Adventures – the company Snowdon co-owns – not only get to take adventure kayak tours in B.C.’s Johnstone Strait, they also enjoy the benefits of large tents with canopies, comfortable beds, high-end locally sourced food, and even hot tubs.

spring-passage-paddling-benSome 55 per cent of Snowdon’s business is international, with the bulk of his customers coming from the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. The U.S. represents another 20 per cent and Canada captures the remaining 25 per cent.

“Essentially, we’re producing an export product,” he says. “That’s an important point to consider when making comparisons to other industries.”

A believer in marine planning, Snowdon hopes the “zoning approach” – where different areas are dedicated to particular sectors, such as community/culture, general management and tourism – will allow individual groups to have sway in certain areas. “I hope tourism areas will be recognized for their usefulness,” he says.

When Snowdon talks about usefulness, he’s referring to an area’s ability to support growth, sustainably. One of the main tours his company runs is a base-camp style trip from Johnstone Strait. “That goes on as long as market conditions are favourable,” he says. Referring to viewscapes (or the vistas paddlers see while they’re kayaking,) he adds, “Our guests have high expectations. When they come to B.C. they want to see a natural product.”

Snowdon also makes the point that adventure tourism is an inherently sustainable business. Tourists will come back year after year, generating reliable income that, instead of disappearing as a resource is consumed, actually increases as a result of word-of-mouth.

He also concedes that tourism is harder for the government to manage. “Other industries have a few very large players with lots of revenues,” he says. “But tourism is much more diffuse. It’s a group of many, many small businesses that all work together to be part of a bigger whole. It’s harder for us to organize ourselves into a coherent voice.”

Still, thanks to his involvement as a North Vancouver Island Marine Plan Advisory Committee member for the commercial tourism sector, Snowdon has learned to listen to other voices. “I’ve come to appreciate that marine planning is a very long and involved process. I hope it guides future planning decisions.”

He has appreciated seeing First Nations and government relationships unfold. And he has learned to anticipate the needs of other sectors and work with them. “As much as we [tourism operators] sometimes feel we’re the underdog, we can’t take the position that [other industries] can’t do what they need to do,” he says.

“But I’ve also learned to be a stronger advocate for our needs.”