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Ecotrust Canada dockside fisheries monitor in Tofino, BC

The first of many: contributing to Nuu-chah-nulth rights based Five Nations fishery

Ecotrust Canada dockside fisheries monitor in Tofino, BC

Halibut opening 2021 in the Five Nations fishery

I arrive at the Lions Gate offloading facility early. There isn’t a cloud in the sky and only a gentle breeze coming up the Tofino harbour as I change into my gumboots and walk down to the dock. The offloading crew is running around with ice, totes, and forklifts as they prepare for the fish to arrive. They are grinning and give a friendly greeting as I navigate my way to our two fisheries monitors — Michelle and Cassandra. We prepare our equipment and I take the opportunity to go over the validation and sampling procedures we are responsible for to give our monitors a refresher before the action begins. When the vessel, The Constellation, pulls up to the dock, there is excitement in the air. This is the first halibut landing of the year for this troller in the Five Nations’ fishery.

The Five Nations, consisting of Ahousaht, Ehattesaht, Mowachaht/Muchalaht, Hesquiaht, and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations, participate in a commercial rights-based fishery that is facilitated by Ha’oom Fisheries Society. Ha’oom works to increase capacity and enhance the role of the Five Nations in management and sustainability of the fisheries.

We’ve worked alongside Ha’oom and the Five Nations’ fishery since 2017. Together, we work to ensure that all federal fisheries data standards are met and that the local monitoring program is developed in a way that is considerate of the culture and goals of the five participating Nations. Community fisheries such as this are vital for food security, our cultural connection to the sea, and supporting rural and remote economies.

As a DFO-designated Dockside Monitoring Program service provider, Ecotrust Canada currently provides monitoring services for Suuhaa (Chinook), Mi?aat (Sockeye), Cuw`it (Coho), Tu`skuuh (Lingcod), Puu?i (Halibut), and rockfish fisheries. At every offload, monitors collect catch data and biological samples for the Five Nations and DFO to use in management.

The data our monitors collect is essential to the continuation of the fisheries and contributes to the Five Nations fisheries’ ability to uphold the Nuu-chah-nulth principles hishukish t’sawalk (everything is one) and iisaak (respect with caring), working to preserve rather than deplete fisheries resources for future generations.

The skipper of the vessel that offloaded today, Gary Martin, was not present at the dock, so I asked his brother, James Martin, what fishing and this opening meant to him. James said he was excited to work and glad for the job.

Halibut offloading in Tofino, BC (Ecotrust Canada photo)

Today’s offload is my definition of the perfect offload, beautiful weather, large quality halibut, and bright faces. The monitors carefully watch the halibut that is craned up in a bucket out of the vessel’s hold. When it is unloaded onto the table, Cassandra jumps in to attach a Ha’oom tag containing the date and fisher details to the tail of each fish. Meanwhile, Michelle, stands back and keeps her hands slime free to complete the paperwork. She keeps track of the piece count and total weight of the halibut, then she collects the vessel’s fishing log and fills out the validation record for the buyer and fisher.

Watching our two monitors contribute to a well-managed fishery at the first halibut offload of 2021 reminds me of why I like my job coordinating this locally led monitoring program. I look forward to the opening of Tu`skuuh (Lingcod) and summer Suuhaa (Chinook) and the increase in participation on the water that it brings each year.

Learn more about our community-based observer monitoring services.

By Gwendolyn Bennett, Fisheries Deployment Coordinator