Efforts to restore shellfish harvesting in North Saanich’s Coles Bay are moving forward starting with an upcoming meeting between representatives from North Saanich and Pauquachin First Nation.
North Saanich council Monday (June 20) unanimously asked staff to organize a partnership meeting with Pauquachin and draft a memorandum of understanding.
The move comes after the local First Nation signalled its desire to resume shellfish harvesting in Coles Bay. In 2020, Pauquachin First Nation asked the municipality to investigate what it can do to regulate pollution from entering the bay, having previously identified residential on-site septic systems in North Saanich as one of the upland bacterial sources that led to the closure of shellfish harvesting more than two decades ago.
Pauquachin First Nation in November 2021 reiterated this broader demand with a more specific critique of North Saanich.
“Local government decisions related to zoning, development approvals, septic systems and stormwater management have resulted in a poor water quality in Coles Bay,” said Christa Croos of the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria, at that time. “And as you all know, poor water quality makes shellfish inedible. Because of this, Pauquachin’s ability to harvest shellfish has been significantly diminished. This is a treaty violation and a violation of fundamental Aboriginal rights to fish.”
The future meeting would take place at Pauquachin First Nation over lunch followed by a shoreline walk along Coles Bay.
North Saanich’s chief administrative officer Tim Tanton said that meeting would not help on this file but would on others, as well as in building a broader relationship with the First Nation.
As for the MOU, Ben Martin, North Saanich’s director of infrastructure, said details would have to be worked out. He added it could help with information sharing between the two communities.
Martin also addressed the question of the Coun. Celia Stock, who called for federal involvement, having said earlier that only Fisheries and Oceans Canada (formerly called DFO) has the authority to open or close shellfish harvesting.
“I’m just worried our jurisdiction is limited,” she said.
Martin responded by saying that it would be appropriate to involve the federal branch in future meetings. However, North Saanich is responsible for stormwater, he added.
A staff report noted North Saanich’s participation in the Saanich Peninsula Liquid Waste Management Plan (SPLWMP), established in 1996, creates an obligation to sustainably manage wastewater and stormwater in the region.
Within this context, the report said North Saanich is “currently non-compliant” with its commitments in regards to liquid waste management outside of sewage areas.
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