By Heather Ramsay-Local fishermen say commercial fishers should be involved sooner rather than later in the planning process for the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve.
The first of five public information sessions attracted a few interested locals on Feb. 19 at the small hall in Skidegate to hear about plans for protecting the waters around Gwaii Haanas.
Project manager Marcia Morash displayed a map of the area with the familiar line drawn around 3,400 square kilometres of ocean extending 10 to 12 kilometres out from the land portion of Gwaii Haanas. She said this line has been in place for 20 years and a marine reserve has always been part of the plan for South Moresby.
That said, the process to protect the ocean will not take place overnight.
Gwaii Haanas staff hope to have the marine conservation area established by fall 2008, but a full management plan including zoning for the area would likely not be ready for five more years after that.
In the meantime an interim plan must be put in place. These informations sessions are paving the way for full consultation which will take place in the spring.
Lindsey Doerksen, a Queen Charlotte-based commercial fisherman, asked whether there would be a fishing industry advisory committee.
He said fishermen should be involved from the beginning so they can provide “meaningful input and not just window dressing.”
Ms Morash said she was meeting with the planning team at the beginning of March to figure out a way to be inclusive about getting feedback from commercial fishermen up and down the coast.
Another fisherman, David Beggs, asked when would be a good time to give input into how to establish inclusive input.
Ms Morash said people can approach her with suggestions at any time, but promised to have a specific answer about reaching out to commercial fishermen in early March. She agreed that it was critical to have stakeholder input into the zoning areas.
The marine conservation area will be managed jointly by Parks Canada and the Haida Nation, but exactly how that will look has yet to be determined. Ms Morash said it will be similar to the way the Archipelago Management Board works, but must also include other federal departments.
For example, changes to marine management plans and zoning must be approved by the Environment Minister (in charge of Parks) and Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. She says the management team cannot make no-take areas without agreement from DFO.
Mr. Beggs asked whether there is a target for the amount of ocean to be placed in no-take zones.
Ms Morash says international research shows that 30 per cent is considered adequate protection, but Gwaii Haanas has not committed to any objectives.
She also said, in the short term, Gwaii Haanas does not intend to change any of the existing no-take zones, like the Rockfish Conservation Area, but did not rule out the possibility of making changes in the future. She also said Gwaii Haanas would likely have no-take zones that ban any kind of resource removal, not just ones that target specific species.
Mr. Doerksen said flexibility is key for his industry and noted that many of the species targeted by fishermen are migratory and do not make their home in the marine reserve area.
As for tourism, Ms Morash said the goal is that no additional layer of bureaucracy be involved for operators and visitors.
More information sessions are being held in Queen Charlotte on Feb. 26 at the Visitor Information Centre, Feb. 27 in Sandspit at the Visitor Information Centre, and Feb. 28 in Port Clements at the community hall. All sessions start at 7 pm.
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