Geoduck fishery dispute prompts First Nation blockade threat
Stz'uminus band is threatening to blockade clam fisheries on the Strait of Georgia
A Vancouver Island First Nation is threatening to blockade a large section of the Strait of Georgia because of a major dispute with Fisheries and Oceans over the lucrative geoduck harvest.
The geoduck is a species of very large, edible, saltwater clam - one of the largest in the world. Its name is derived from a Coast Salish word meaning "dig deep".
The sought-after clams have a very high value on the international market. Stz'uminus Chief John Elliott says his First Nation has been seeking a larger share of the geoduck fishery for years.
Elliott says the band applied to Fisheries and Oceans Canada to harvest the clams in a 100-hectare area in the waters near its reserve, but were only granted rights to harvest just five hectares of sea floor.
He says the Stz'uminus rely on the resources "fronting its doorstep."
Stz'uminus boats already blocked commercial geoduck harvesters in 2010, leading to tense moments on the water.
Now the band has has issued a notice saying the Stz'uminus will prohibit access to all vessels in its traditional waters, an area stretching from Active Pass to Gabriola Island.
Eliott says plans are still being finalized, but the blockade would likely target all fisheries including crab, prawn and herring.
"What do we have to lose?" he asks.
"If we stop fisheries happening in our territory, that's exactly what we need to do. We have absolutely nothing to lose as a First Nations community.
"It's created some frustration for us over the times of trying to have these discussions with DFO, we feel it's falling on deaf ears."
Fisheries and Oceans says it is working with the Stz'uminus to understand their concerns, but it will also work with the RCMP to ensure the safety of everyone on the water.