Coastal communities should be active participant in delivery of marine investments

Vancouver – Canada’s federal government has announced new investments to improve marine safety and shipping management across the country’s extensive coastal regions. The initial reaction from First Nations and conservation organizations is that the proof of their success will be in the delivery.

“This is an important step but our Nations need to be involved at the nation-to-nation level in the design and delivery of marine safety and shipping management in our Territories,” says Marilyn Slett, Coastal First Nations (CFN) President and Heiltsuk Chief Councillor. “We want a joint management plan in which our Nations are fully resourced and making decisions about vessel traffic in our waters. For too long, Canada has failed to uphold its responsibility to protect coastal communities and ecosystems.”

Chief Slett says she’s pleased to see the government building on more than two years of talks to identify shipping concerns coordinated by CFN with other First Nations, Canada and British Columbia. But a failure to fully involve First Nations in a joint management plan, she adds, would raise serious concerns about whether the new safety measures could work.

“The sinking of the Columbia Layne barge near Klemtu and the earlier spill of the Nathan E. Stewart in Heiltsuk territory underscores how our communities pay the price for an inadequate system,” says Slett. “The Queen of the North is still sitting on the bottom of the ocean discharging oil in Gitga’at territory. We can’t afford to keep having these disasters.”

CFN has called for full involvement in:

  • Decision-making in the management of vessel traffic in their territories.
  • Designing a major upgrade to the entire west coast marine safety and emergency response system.
  • Designing improved protection for coastal ecosystems, wildlife, and communities.
  • Implementing better integration of shipping activity with other marine activities, including fishing, ecotourism, and cultural activities.

“Our full participation going forward is critical,” says CFN Board Chair Kelly Russ. “CFN is working hard with other First Nations, Canada and the Province to design new marine plans, set out principles for ecosystem-based management, and find collaborative ways to designate new marine protected areas.”

Along with other leaders in coastal communities, Russ says these federal investments are not a means to make way for new development: “CFN remains firmly opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline and to any crude oil tanker traffic through our member First Nations’ territories.”

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