The Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation has declared its own Marine Protected Area along a critical and biodiverse part of British Columbia’s central coast.
The protected area, Gitdisdzu Lugyeks, or Kitasu Bay, covers 33.5 square kilometers of ocean near Laredo Sound, about 500 kilometers north of Vancouver.
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It is a spiritual place for the nation, whose livelihoods, health and culture are intertwined with the land, water, fish and wildlife, according to Chief Doug Neasloss. The bay is also part of the Great Bear Sea, whose waters surround the largest coastal temperate rainforest on the planet.
“This bay we’re talking about, Kitasu Bay, is basically the breadbasket of the community and has been for thousands of years,” Neasloss explained.
“It’s basically one of the last spawning grounds on the coast that’s reliable and extremely important to the community.”
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The Great Bear Sea and the Gitdisdzu Lugyeks are home to wild salmon, cod, halibut, shellfish, kelp forests, and more. Seabirds, seals and whales are among the mammals that frequent its dark, misty waters.
A marine protected area or MPA is a legally protected part of the ocean, managed to achieve long-term conservation goals. In 2020, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) had listed 14 in Canada, including Hecate Strait in British Columbia and the glass sponge reefs of Queen Charlotte Sound.
Rather than federal law, the Gitdisdzu Lugyeks MPA was declared under the Kitasoo Xai’xais Act, Indigenous rights set out in the Constitution Act, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
DFO said no one was available to comment on this story by the Global News deadline on Wednesday. The federal department’s goal is to conserve 25% of Canada’s marine and coastal areas by 2025 and 30% by 2030.
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Neasloss said the First Nation has worked with Ottawa for more than 15 years to protect water in its traditional territory, but it’s been a “frustrating” process. The federal government has “walked out” of negotiations twice, he added, including during deliberations over the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project.
“We just don’t feel there’s enough marine protection effort on the entire coast of British Columbia,” he said.
“We are open, we want to work with different levels of government and stakeholders, but we felt it was important to take this step.”
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Less than one percent of Kitasoo Xai’xais Territory’s water is protected, although much of the territory is covered by agreements that protect the ecologically rare Great Bear Rainforest.
When the country drew up its land use plans years ago, Neasloss said he tried to include the ocean, but was tasked with analyzing them because land is regulated by the provincial government and water, the federal government.
“We are an ocean-based people. We depend on the ocean for food, transportation, it connects all of our communities,” he told Global News.
“We have seen a long history of people taking everything and leaving nothing behind. We think someone has to do something and we are in the best position to do it.
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The management plan for the new MPA aims to merge traditional local knowledge and Western science to maintain ecological integrity, protect fish and wildlife, preserve cultural and archaeological sites, and ensure the Kitasoo Xai’xais can hunt there. and fish there for generations to come.
The management plan will be shared with all levels of government, reads the declaration signed on June 21, and then invites to join in the implementation and co-governance in a spirit of reconciliation. It will also be open for public review and comment before being finalized.
“We don’t ask for any permission,” it read. “For decades, we have worked with Canada and British Columbia to collaboratively form an MPA in Kitasu Bay.
“We will continue to encourage this outcome, but we cannot wait long for other governments to act to preserve and protect this special place that is so integral to Kitasoo Xai’xais.”
The MPA will be enforced by the nation’s Guardian Watchmen, who this month signed an agreement with the BC government to gain full ranger authority over provincial parks in their territory.
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