The federal government warns against harvesting shellfish in Coles Bay. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Pauquachin First Nation calls on North Saanich to help restore shellfish in Coles Bay

The nation identifies ‘residential onsite septic systems’ as one of sources of contamination

A local First Nation wants North Saanich to investigate sources of pollution that impact shellfish in Coles Bay as it tries to revive that source of food considered traditional.

Chief Rebecca David of the Pauquachin First Nation asked for the assistance in a letter to council.

“As you may be aware, Pauquachin First Nation, in partnership with [others] in the region started a project to try and restore shellfish harvesting at Coles Bay. Shellfish harvesting has been closed in the area for over 20 years and we see this as an infringement of our Douglas Treaty rights and an unnecessary impact to our traditional foods,” she said. David’s letter identifies “residential onsite septic systems” as “one of the upland bacterial sources” influencing the closure in calling for municipal assistance.

“We are requesting that North Saanich investigate what it can do to regulate pollution to prevent them from entering our food source,” she said. “In addition to this we are requesting support for ongoing monitoring of the freshwater and/or marine environment to that our efforts to reduce bacterial inputs are working.”

David’s letter argues among other points that COVID-19 pandemic represents an “unprecedented challenge that also presents an opportunity for us to be thinking about our local food systems.”

North Saanich council Monday forwarded David’s letter to staff, which will prepare a report on the subject.

By way of background, the Pauquachin First Nation is one of four First Nations on the Saanich Peninsula and a signatory to the Douglas Treaties, a series of agreements signed between 14 First Nations and British colonists named after James Douglas, governor of Vancouver Island, then a British colony. Broadly speaking, the treaties’ terms would see First Nations surrender their land “entirely and forever” in exchange for cash, clothing, or blankets while retaining extensive rights to hunt and fish, rights upheld by courts on multiple occasions.

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The Pauquachin First Nation is currently not part of the B.C. Treaty process.

According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Coles Bay is subject to a year-round, permanent ban on bivalve shellfish harvesting. The ban specifically applies to the waters and intertidal foreshore of Coles Bay inside a line drawn from Yarrow Point to a point on the eastern shore of the bay 125 m south of the unnamed creek entering at 8600 Kleewyck Rd., according to the department’s website. The department has stated on its website that eating contaminated shellfish can make people sick, even life threatening, as cooking shellfish does not destroy all biotoxins.

“When an area is officially ‘closed’, it is both illegal and unsafe to harvest shellfish from that area,” reads a warning. “It is your responsibility to know where you are planning to harvest and to find out if the species you wish to harvest is open in that area.” This said, individuals harvested the area for shellfish.

The Peninsula News Review reached out to the Pauquachin First Nation as well as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and will update this story.


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