Province and First Nations launch vital Marine Planning Partnership initiative

marine conservation, B.C. marine wildlife, First Nations, Mapp
(L-R) Don Roberts, Chair of the North Coast-Skeena First Nations Stewardship Society; Dallas Smith, President, Nanwakolas Council; Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, John Rustad, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.

Leaders from the North Pacific Coast First Nations and the provincial government of British Columbia announced completion of plans for the Marine Planning Partnership (MaPP) on Monday, which would chart a new course for ocean conservation. The plan is co-led by the provincial government and 18 coastal Nations.

As First Nations performers beat ceremonial drums, danced and sang at Reception Hall in the B.C. Legislature Building, the plan was hailed as a new beginning, a world-leading initiative in ocean management and marine conservation.

'Namgis Chief Bill Cranmer of Campbell River, BC addresses the audience during Tuesday's Marine Planning Partnership Announcement. Photo by Peter Mallett

MaPP covers a massive geographical area and includes over 100,000 kilometers of coastline from Haida Gwaii, in the north, to Campbell River on Vancouver Island, in the south, and involved more than a decade of consultation with stakeholders.

“Today’s agreement between the Government of BC and 18 First Nations marks a milestone for sustainable economic development and stewardship of British Columbia’s coastal marine environment,” said Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson.

“I look forward to working with First Nations as we move forward to implementation.”  

The MaPP will provide recommendations for key areas of marine management, including commercial and recreational uses, activities and protection. The partnership will also help shape decisions concerning sustainable economic development and stewardship of the coastal marine environment.

It comprises four separate regional marine plans involving the Central Coast, Haida Gwaii, North Coast and North Vancouver Island.

MaPP, Marine area planning, B.C. conservation

Map of MaPP study area 

Stakeholders said B.C.'s diverse but fragile oceans and marine ecosystems are in serious peril, and that the new plans offer a new beginning and way to turn the tide on environmental degradation. 

“The marine plans are a significant step forward in protecting the oceans around us for future generations and ensuring sustainable use,” said Kil tlaats ‘gaa (Peter Lantin), President of the Haida Nation. 

“The ocean around us is experiencing many threats including marine development, climate change and unprecedented changes in productivity of fisheries. The marine plans provide a blueprint for adapting to these changes.”

One overlying threat to the North Pacific Coast is man-made pollution. With protests over increased oil tanker traffic and the $6.5-billion Northern Gateway Pipeline ramping up, coupled with the recent toxic bunker fuel spill that closed Vancouver beaches, stakeholders acknowledged that public interest in the health of the Pacific coast has been greatly heightened.  

“The focus of the plans is to manage human activities within nature’s limits, to ensure the health of our oceans and coastal communities,” said Sabine Jessen, National Oceans Program Director with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. 

“Although we would like to see more and stronger conservation measures in the plans, they represent a very important first step in managing our ocean resources for generations to come.”

The planning process for the MaPP was a successful private-public partnership that involved the Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance, Coast First Nations Great Bear Initiative, Council of the Haida Nation, Nanwakolas Council, North Coast-Skeena First Nations Stewardship Society and others. Administrative support for the project came from from Tides Canada and financial backing from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.   

One stakeholder conspicuously absent from Tuesday’s ceremony — as well as the recent consultation process — has been the federal government. Ottawa has jurisdiction over commercial fishing, marine transportation, liquid natural gas development (LNG) and management of private lands but so far is keeping its distance from MaPP.

Most delegates attending Tuesday’s ceremony expressed concern over a lack of engagement from Ottawa but hoped that would soon change.

“Until we get together with the federal government and work together, we are always going to have controversy,” said Art Sterritt, Executive Director of Coastal First Nations.

“The fact that is that we [First Nations] have rights, a right to title, a right to the economy and a right to the fish. We are not going to allow the federal government to bully us on anything, but we’d really just rather work with them on it. That is our intention in the future. We are optimistic that is going to happen sooner than later.”

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