Another legal victory has affirmed fishing rights for Indigenous peoples off Canada’s west coast.
The decision delivered by the B.C. Supreme Court Thursday found Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) wrongly obstructed the fishing rights of five First Nations collectively known as the Nuu-chah-nulth (NCN).
DFO Regional Director-General Rebecca Reid welcomed the 400-page ruling explaining it outlined needed details to negotiate fishing policy in Indigenous territories.
“We think it’s extremely important,” she said in a telephone interview Friday. “It’s largely positive…because it provides some clarification.”
The other side declared it a clear victory.
“This is a win for all First Nations in B.C.,” said Hugh Braker, vice-president of the First Nations Fisheries Council of British Columbia.
Braker said the ruling would help the Ahousaht, Ehattesaht/Chinekintaht, Hesquiaht, Tla-o-qui-aht and Mowachaht/Muchalat First Nations establish a commercial fishery.
He said DFO spent $19.1 million on the court battle – even after the Supreme Court ruled First Nations had the right to catch and sell fish in their own territories.
But Reid described it more as instructions Canada needed to write policy.
It “provides some very helpful clarification on areas that we simply couldn’t come to an agreement on,” she said, noting it even specified the fishing area and types of boats.
Reid said fishing policy “was complex” but Canada was committed to doing it “in reconciliation” with affected nations.
She said the two parties would likely go back to court to hammer out a timeframe for implementing new policy. She said a decision on an appeal had not yet been made.
However, NCN president Judith Sayers said the government should let the bands begin fishing immediately.
“NCN must have (a) moderate living,” she said on Twitter.
The ruling by Justice Mary Humphries applies to a variety of salmon, groundfish, crab, prawn and shellfish.
Indigenous groups say they spent about $14 million defending their rights in the case that began in 2006.