Many voices make for better policymaking and results

The North Vancouver Island Marine Plan Advisory Committee met with the MaPP Implementation Team in Campbell River on May 29, 2017. Photo credit: Bruce Storry.

The North Vancouver Island Marine Plan Advisory Committee met with the MaPP Implementation Team in Campbell River on May 29, 2017. Photo credit: Bruce Storry.

Integral to the MaPP planning process and the current implementation phase, has been the participation of many different individuals, groups and organizations connected in one way or another to the region’s rich marine environment. Otherwise known as stakeholders, this diverse mix of voices added much-valued input and authenticity to the creation of the North Vancouver Island (NVI) Marine Plan. Stakeholder advice and feedback was collected through the NVI Marine Plan Advisory Committee, (MPAC), whose members represented a broad range of marine sectors and interests. Stakeholders continue to make an impact, as seen in three recent MPAC meetings about implementation plans for the NVI sub-region.

There are many interpretations of the term stakeholder, how to meaningfully engage stakeholders and what makes their input so valuable.

Jim Abram, electoral area director for Discovery Islands-Mainland Inlets and local government representative for the Strathcona Regional District, typically views the term stakeholder as “very limiting” as it “usually applies to a specific interest”. However, he believes the input from the NVI marine advisory committee members has played an integral role in shaping the plan by continually bringing forward ideas and views that wouldn’t be known or considered otherwise. “Our local knowledge is invaluable. It is usually accepted, but sometimes not. If it isn’t, a reason is always given. The exchange is respectful and well-discussed.”

Jim McIsaac, coordinator for the B.C. Commercial Fishing Caucus, believes stakeholders diversify the knowledge base that leads to better decision-making and approaches to moving forward. “By having them engaged and bringing their knowledge to decisions, it strengthens all decisions made.” In terms of MaPP, “It creates more durable solutions for communities — creating that space where ecosystems and communities can co-exist, where well-being, economy and culture can co-exist with the environment, productivity and other species.”

Marine coordinator for the Nanwakolas Council and co-chair of the NVI planning team John Bones says stakeholder support has been critical to MaPP’s success. “We’re very pleased at being able to collaboratively develop a plan between the provincial government and our First Nations members. The value of having stakeholders at the table is that it gives everyone the opportunity to understand the plan and issues, and the First Nations perspective. Each First Nations community has different sectors of expertise and knowledge that’s extremely beneficial in making implementation activities relevant and rigorous.”

From a B.C. government perspective, Andy Witt, manager, Coastal and Aquatic Habitat and provincial co-lead for the NVI Marine Plan, agrees. “When you look at the development of a plan and its ultimate purpose, you cannot set a vision or determine objectives without engaging the people who are going to be part of that vision and are integral to implementing your objectives.”

“Having such a diverse group in the same room broadens everyone’s horizons, scopes and thoughts on other issues that are beyond their sectors’ primary focus,” says Barb Dinning, technical planner with MaPP for the NVI sub-region.

Dan Edwards, representative of the Commercial Fishing Caucus, believes that meaningfully engaging a range of viewpoints is essential. “That spectrum ranges from simply asking advice or consultation, to actually sitting down and building a plan together and sharing your experiences and interests and having a consensus framework for decision-making that would ultimately respect those interests.” For Edwards, meaningful engagement offers a critical way to protect his interests and the interests of those he represents.

Rick Snowdon, a local tourism business operator and board member of the North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association (a whale-watching industry group), sums everything up. “A stakeholder in a process like this is anyone with a unique point of view on the future needs of the region. ‘Engaging with stakeholders’ really means attempting to capture the diversity of needs and activities and incorporate those needs into a plan that’s inclusive and respectful of everyone.”

 

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.”

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.”