Six years after starting fisheries litigation, the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations have won a landmark case in the BC Supreme Court confirming their aboriginal right to commercially harvest fish species within their territory and adjacent waters, and to organize their own fishery. The court has given the Nuu Chah Nulth First Nations and the Government of Canada two years to negotiate a regulatory framework for the fishery.
This precedent-setting ruling sets the stage for other First Nations to regain lost commercial access to their local marine resources. That being said, the dust has yet to settle and there is a long road of negotiations ahead before we will see how this impacts the current structure, function and management of the commercial fishery in BC.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there is some room within the language of the citation for negotiation. For example, the outcome of the negotiations must “accommodate the plaintiffs’ aboriginal rights to fish and to sell fish” but must also not jeopardize “Canada’s legislative objectives and societal interests in regulating the fishery”. This leaves things far from defined and will be a new process for Canadian government who have not considered commercial aboriginal fishing rights in fisheries policy to date.
This case will obviously have implications for other fisheries interest groups. Fisheries hold great social as well as economic importance for Canada, and all interests in the future of fisheries, First Nations and Non First Nations, will no doubt be watching this one.
A heartfelt congratulations to our friends and partners of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation.