Close to 300 Indigenous people have gathered in Cape Breton's Membertou First Nation to learn about new fishery and aquaculture opportunities at the third annual National Indigenous Fisheries and Aquaculture Forum.

Government and business people from Canada, the United States and Mexico are making connections, sharing success stories, and learning how to grow and diversity fisheries and aquaculture opportunities in Indigenous communities.

Ted Walkus, the hereditary chief of Wuikinuxv Nation in Rivers Inlet, B.C., said the goal is to create economic opportunity by protecting fish stocks and the environment.

"It's extremely important," he said.

Ted Walkus,  hereditary chief of Wuikinuxv Nation, River's Inlet, BC.

Ted Walkus, hereditary chief of Wuikinuxv Nation in Rivers Inlet, B.C., said a new salmon hatchery is providing employment in his community. (Holly Conners/CBC)

Although the tiny B.C. community has a population as low as 60 people during the winter, it has a success story to share. Walkus said his area has a unique run of exceptionally large Chinook salmon. 

The community wanted to preserve the species and create jobs. Through a partnership with two nearby sport fishing lodges, a salmon hatchery was constructed on the First Nation's land that now employs four people.

"When you hire four people out of 60 people in a community, you're making a difference," he said.

Courageous decision

Waycobah First Nation in Cape Breton has its own success story. 

"Two years ago, the band made a courageous decision," said Don Davis, director of corporate services. It took over ownership of a community trout farm that Waycobah had been leasing to a private firm.

Since then, the band has grown the aquaculture operation, built a processing facility and partnered with New Brunswick's Northern Sea Harvest Farms to distribute Waycobah trout in the U.S.

 (l-r) Don Davis, Bob Chamberlin, Ted Walkus.

Don Davis of Waycobah First Nation, Bob Chamberlin, chair of the First Nation Wild Salmon Association and Ted Walkus, hereditary chief of Wuikinuxv Nation in Rivers Inlet, B.C., share the secrets of their success. (Holly Conners/CBC)

"It's a good example of doing something that you do best," said Davis. "We knew we could grow the fish. We knew we could process the fish. Where we were weak would be the distribution of the fish to the market." 

Millions in revenue

Forty community members now work at the farm and the processing plant. This year, Waycobah will harvest about 400,000 fish and generate about $4.5 million of revenue.

"Our goal is within three years to be harvesting a million trout out of that farm and selling it to the U.S.," said Davis.

Both Davis and Walkus stress the value of outside partnerships.

There's a message to be sent to the non-Indigenous business community that engaging and partnering with First Nations people can be beneficial for all parties, said Chief Bob Chamberlin, chair of the First Nation Wild Salmon Association.