In 2013, after several years of work and document review by federal agencies, Ecotrust Canada became the first charitable organization to obtain Corporation Certification to deliver at-sea and dockside fisheries monitoring programs. These programs include training courses for human Observers as well as data collection, entry and delivery protocols to ensure all federal fisheries data standards are met.

Amanda Barney, our General Manager for the Marine Monitoring Initiative, shares her personal insights on the human observer training happening with small indigenous fishing communities on Vancouver Island, and the benefits it’s bringing them.

Meeting a community need

For the last two years we’ve been working with the five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations supporting T’aaq-wiihak fisheries by delivering a dockside monitoring program for their Suuhaa (chinook) and Mi?aat (sockeye) directed salmon fisheries.  T’aaq-wiihak refers to fishing with the permission of the Ha’wiih (hereditary chiefs) to catch and sell all species traditionally harvested within their territories, and comprises the rights of five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations.

While the T’aaq-wiihak were collecting valuable data for their own fishery management, like many First Nations communities they were also having to hire external human monitors to be able to report that data back to the federal government based on the national standard. These intense hiring costs are not economically feasible for smaller fisheries, which limits their ability to keep boats on the water, and hence their ability to bring employment and income into their local communities.

Local knowledge and Indigenous-led monitoring

In order to support these First Nations located around Tofino on Vancouver Island, Ecotrust Canada actively works as a service provider. We offer training programs that enable the hiring of local Dockside Monitors, data entry and program coordination, as well as offering remote data collation and delivery services. While fisheries monitoring may seem like a strange thing for a charity to pursue, we have seen the invigorating effect our work has had on the industry and local communities.

Our goal for the training program for the T’aaq-wiihak fisheries is to reinforce and continue to build local fisheries knowledge and capacity in order to meet the needs of First Nations, local fishing communities and meeting the national standards from the DFO (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) for the designation of Observers. Observer training courses prepare students for employment as catch monitors, biological samplers or both, and guides them through the Observer certification process.

              

Additionally, supporting small and medium-sized fishing boats contributes to a less intensive and less stressful environment for the fish in comparison to modern industrial vessels.

Thus, we use the DFO designation as an umbrella to support small community fisheries and First Nation fisheries, offering affordable services to all, not just affluent industrial fisheries that can afford external monitoring. We believe that offering this service to small local fishing communities contributes to their long-term economic health, as well as local community culture and well-being.

Natural stewards of lands and resources

From my own perspective, I have come to my role as lead trainer for our Observer programs very organically. Not only did I work many years ago as both a dockside and an at-sea Observer in Alaska, but in my first years at Ecotrust Canada I did salmon Observer work in Prince Rupert and helped deliver training programs to our North Coast and Namgis’ partners.

I find training local community members to monitor and engage with the fisheries that occur in the waters around their homes particularly fulfilling, as they are connected to the resource and area in such a mindful way that makes them very natural stewards, and also, very engaged students.

For more information, read about our Observer Training Program.