Skip to content

Lax Kw'alaams takes DFO to court over proposed fishing restrictions

Lax Kw’alaams says restrictions will negatively impact their fishing interests and way of life

The Lax Kw’alaams Band is in court this week over lack of consultation on a Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) plan to impose fishing restrictions in the Northern Shelf Bioregion. 

The band, including members and representatives of the nine Allied Tsimshian Tribes argue that the scheduled implementation of a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) will negatively impact their fishing interests.

Under proposed changes "between 20 per cent and 50 per cent of the proposed Network will be targeted for high protection, meaning that activities such as commercial and recreational fishing, aquaculture, and industrial activities would not be acceptable, whereas the remaining areas of the Network would allow for a selected mix of human uses while still meeting conservation objectives," the plan states.

"Lax Kw’alaams is requesting a judicial review of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans’ decision to endorse the network and launch the implementation of fishing restrictions in the Northern Shelf Bioregion (NSB), an area of 102,000 square kilometres stretching from North Vancouver Island to the Alaskan Canadian border, where the Lax Kw’alaams commercial fleet regularly fish," said a Lax Kw'alaams press release."

Furthermore, the band said it is "deeply concerned with the lack of meaningful consultation."

"The MPA Network was endorsed in February of 2023 by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, the BC government and less than half of the First Nations with territories in the region (15 of 42)," the release said.

"The socio-economic, cultural and cumulative impacts of the MPA network have never been analyzed or mitigated by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans."

Garry Reece, mayor of Lax Kw’alaams, said the process appears to be more of the same from the Canadian Government.

“All we’re asking is that Canada seriously considers how this plan could impact our fisheries and way of life, and to work with us to mitigate these impacts," he said. "We have shown up to the table for years in good faith, but it’s frustrating to have our concerns ignored. It’s 2024 — how much longer will we have to wait for Canada to do better and uphold its duty to consult Indigenous Peoples?”

Stan Dennis Jr, Galmalgyax/Speaker, Allied Tsimshian Tribes Association, said they want to work with the federal government.

"Consultation should be a process designed collaboratively with the Indigenous People involved," he said.

“Ever since DFO took over management of the fisheries they have screwed everything up. The two fisheries that are on the brink of collapse, herring and salmon, are directly managed by DFO and have the greatest conservation concerns. DFO has turned fisheries into a political chip, and they aren’t collaborating with the people who fish these stocks and have a responsibility to take care of them for future generations."

For its part, DFO said in an emailed response to Black Press Media, that it would not comment on an ongoing legal proceeding, but said it was "committed to working with Lax Kw’alaams Indian Band to address any concerns that relate to the Northern Shelf Bioregion Marine Protected Areas Network planning process."

The statement said the Network Action Plan for the Northern Bioshelf Region (NSB) "is a non-binding document that serves as a blueprint to guide implementation of a network of MPAs within the NSB, and recommends priority areas for conservation, proposed tools to consider to provide protections, and a timeline for implementation aligned with Canada’s Marine Conservation Targets. 

On its website, DFO says the MPA Network is an important tool for preserving the resources the Northern Shelf Bioregion provides. 

"The NSB is under pressure," the website states. "There are many contributing factors, including increasing demands for seafood, land and marine pollution, climate change, and other issues. In general, habitats and some species in the bioregion are experiencing worrying deterioration and declines. This in turn is affecting those who depend on the health of these ecosystems for their well-being."


Thom Barker

About the Author: Thom Barker

After graduating with a geology degree from Carleton University and taking a detour through the high tech business, Thom started his journalism career as a fact-checker for a magazine in Ottawa in 2002.
Read more