Building an economy in Gwaii Haanas Marine

  • Apr. 18, 2012 4:00 p.m.

Submitted by Emery Hartley, Julia Dullien, and Linnaea Fyles, students from the Haida Gwaii Semester–Economic opportunity and protected areas are not often considered in the same breath. The consultation process for the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site Management Plan is only just beginning but already opportunities are rising for the community to shape the future of this ecological jewel.As a research project for Case Studies in Haida Gwaii, the seminar course in the Haida Gwaii Semester, our group began investigating how a new marine management plan could enhance the economic wellbeing of the Haida Gwaii community. We focused on two primary areas of use that have great potential to generate more revenue for Haida Gwaii: tourism and fisheries. While these are not new industries for the islands, there are new challenges and opportunities that will arise with the new management plan.Before considering how economic development could happen in Gwaii Haanas Marine, we realized there were some theoretical hoops to jump through first, like getting to the roots of how Gwaii Haanas is perceived around the world. This required questioning perceptions, especially around that of Gwaii Haanas as a “wilderness.” Wilderness implies an uninhabited place that excludes humans, but a critical aspect of Gwaii Haanas is the long history of human use. Gwaii Haanas is a part of Haida Gwaii and a part of the people here, and so advertising it as “pristine” or “untouched” may be counterproductive in terms of building a new economy. Our group thought that telling a different story – one that places human use of resources as a critical part of Gwaii Haanas – could lead to a new kind of economy, where tourists understand commercial fishing as an important part of the area, rather than something that “ruins” it.Our research also indicated that more local benefits could be derived from the fishing sector in Gwaii Haanas Marine. The past several years have seen a steady decline in fisheries revenues returning to the islands, with canneries closing and more quotas being held by off island fishers. The new management plan for Gwaii Haanas could provide an opportunity for a new type of fisheries management; for example, for community-owned quotas.Community quotas, combined with a solid marine resources management plan, could allow local processing facilities to expand and provide more local jobs. In the past processing has been driven off island because of cost, but sustainably managed seafood has become a high-value product and sustainably certified products such as Alaskan salmon and Australian lobster routinely fetch preferential pricing and markets. Combining effective fisheries management with local extraction could create a product that would be certified as sustainable by an organization such as the Marine Stewardship Council, and that could have a high enough value to make local processing an economic reality.We boiled down all the research and reading we did to four points to be considered in the development of a new economy for Gwaii Haanas Marine: diverse, locally embedded, seasonally flexible, and interconnected sectors. Thanks to everyone who has given us a hand in our (many) projects and made this an unforgettable semester!

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