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First Nation threatening fisheries blockade waits for DFO's call

A B.C. First Nation threatening to block commercial fisheries in its traditional waters said it's still waiting for a meaningful discussion with the federal government about a dispute over the geoduck harvest.

Meanwhile, the Stz'uminus Nation is reaching out to commercial fishermen and other involved parties to try and reach an understanding so a blockade can be avoided.

The east Vancouver Island nation is frustrated with Fisheries and Oceans Canada's control over resources, in particular the lucrative geoduck harvest. Geoduck is a species of large, saltwater clam, and is highly valued in the global market.

Stz'uminus wants a greater say in resource management and access to more resources, said chief John Elliott.

Elliott said his nation has been "pulled all over the place" since it sent out a statement on May 2, vowing to block any commercial fishing vessels from entering its traditional waters, an area stretching from Gabriola Island to Active Pass.

He said he met with chiefs of neighbouring First Nations Monday who all expressed support for Stz'uminus' plans, even though a blockade will affect their fisheries.

"They share our frustrations with access to resources and will be supportive of anything that happens within our territory," said Elliott. The meeting was a green light to move ahead with the blockade when the nation deems it necessary, he said.

Elliott hopes it won't come to that, and said Stz'uminus is busy meeting representatives from industry and concerned sports fishermen in an effort to solve the dispute, which was triggered by DFO's new geoduck management plan.

"Our fight isn't with commercial fishermen," said Elliott. "They're trying to make a livelihood, just as we are."

Elliott said some fishermen expressed understanding and willingness to stay out of the band's territory. But with the large number of commercial fisheries in the area, it is difficult to reach that kind of understanding with everyone, he said.

The chief said DFO holds the power to solve the looming conflict peacefully -- if only it would reach out to Stz'uminus.

A spokesperson for Fisheries Minister Gail Shea told The Tyee last week that DFO officials were "engaged in ongoing discussions with Stz'uminus."

Elliott said he received one phone call from DFO after he sent out the notice, but nothing since. He said he's waiting for the next one to come.

"DFO is the real player in this process, and they haven't been involved," he said. "Or they don't want to."

Kristian Secher is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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