Plans to restore shellfish harvesting in Coles Bay are picking up. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Plans to restore shellfish harvesting in Coles Bay are picking up. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

North Saanich seeks to return to shellfish harvesting

Contamination from septic systems a major hurdle facing Pauquachin First Nation

Efforts to restore shellfish harvesting in North Saanich’s Coles Bay are picking up.

Next month, council will hear from Capital Regional District (CRD) staff about the current state of the septic service system near Coles Bay. The meeting marks another step in plans by the Pauquachin First Nation in partnership with others in the region to restore shellfish harvesting at Coles Bay.

The First Nation considers the closure of shellfish harvesting more than 20 years ago an infringement of its Douglas Treaty rights and an impact on its traditional food, according to a letter to the municipality. That letter also points to one of the central problems preventing the restoration of the harvest.

“It is understood that one of the upland bacterial sources that is influencing the closure comes from residential onsite septic systems,” it reads, calling on the municipality to investigate what it can do to regulate said sources of pollution.

According to a North Saanich staff report, one possible solution is the municipality joining the onsite sewage system service the CRD offers.

The initiative to restore shellfish harvesting in the region dates back to at least 2015 following directions by the CRD board with the CRD’s First Nations Relations Division facilitating meetings with an alphabet soup of agencies including local health officials across multiple political jurisdictions and sectors including academia and non-profits. These meetings eventually led to an agreement to focus on one area with Pauquachin First Nation eventually coming forward with a request of to re-focus efforts at Coles Bay.

According to the North Saanich staff report, testing as recently as 2014 showed promise, with testing results sometimes meeting the approved safety thresholds. “Of all the other beaches on the Saanich Peninsula, Coles Bay has a much higher potential of re-opening,” it reads, quoting CRD staff.

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

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.”

While efforts are underway, North Saanich staff have also warned against high expectations. “I think it would be a bit of an understatement to say that this a bit of a complicated initiative,” said Eymond Toupin, North Saanich’s director of infrastructure services. “There are lots of level of government that are involved and lots of different folks who are participating to see this happen. It is one of those things that might take some time.”

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 rights to hunt and fish, rights upheld by courts on multiple occasions.


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wolfgang.depner@peninsulanewsreview.com