Ottawa is committing close to $12 million to boost sustainable Indigenous fishing enterprises on the West Coast.

The funds will support new businesses, training opportunities and increased access to fisheries for 31 Indigenous commercial fishing companies involving 117 First Nations across B.C., said federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray on Wednesday.

The federal government is committed to advancing reconciliation with Indigenous communities and building regenerative and prosperous fisheries in the province with $11.8 million in funding through the Pacific Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative (PICFI), Murray said.

"We're working every day to foster a model of shared stewardship and to increase First Nations involvement in fisheries and a greater say in how fisheries are managed within traditional territories," she said, adding the federal government has invested millions to expand Indigenous fisheries on all three coasts.

Murray made the announcement in Nanaimo at the St. Jean’s Cannery and Smokehouse, purchased in 2016 by the Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood Development Corporation, an enterprise representing five West Coast First Nations from the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council.

The cannery initiative, a recipient of PICFI funding, is the "jewel in the crown" of a collaborative effort to regain access to the commercial fisheries and aquaculture sector, said Gary Wilson, CEO of the Kyuquot/Checleseht First Nations group of businesses, a shareholder in the seafood business.

"The PICFI afforded Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood the opportunity to engage on a fully integrated scale, from deck to dish," Wilson said.

Federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray announced $11.8 million in funding on Wednesday to boost B.C. First Nations' involvement in commercial fisheries and the aquaculture sector. Photo courtesy of DFO

Jennifer Woodland, CEO of Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood, said $88,000 in PICFI funding will help buy new packaging equipment for the cannery that will support the company's processing, sales and marketing.

The mission of the First Nations' enterprise is to revitalize communities through the seafood sector in a manner that balances growth and opportunity with sustainability, she said.

Close to $12 million will go to support new businesses and increased access to fisheries for 31 Indigenous commercial fishing companies involving 117 First Nations across B.C., federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray announced Wednesday.

“When we talk about opportunities and seafood, we do want to see the growth,” Woodland said.

“But we want to see the growth and sustainability so that these opportunities remain for seven generations.”

A number of First Nations in the Vancouver Island region are receiving funds to support fisheries or aquaculture ventures.

The Klahoose Nation, based on Cortes Island, is receiving $102,000 to expand its new kelp farming enterprise, existing geoduck aquaculture operations and to build an aquaculture work centre to increase local employment.

The A-Tlegay Fisheries Society, representing the We Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum, K'ómoks, Tlowitsis and Kwiakah Nations in the Campbell River, Quadra Island and Comox Valley regions, received a combined $455,000.

The funds will help purchase geoduck licences and quota to expand the fishery in the nations' traditional territory and increase harvesters’ earnings and employment opportunities.

The money will also help fund the purchase of commercial herring seine licences, said We Wai Kai Chief Ronnie Chickite, emphasizing the need to maintain important jobs in a fishery that is facing cuts.

"We have quite a few young fishermen who are depending on these, so we are always trying to keep as many licences available as we can," Chickite said.

As well, Pentlatch Seafoods, owned by the K'ómoks First Nation, is receiving $300,000 to expand its shellfish operations with the purchase of two million oyster seeds and one million clam seeds.

The funding and federal fisheries initiative is co-developed, co-designed and co-delivered with Indigenous partners to provide programs fundamental to communities’ economic development and self-sufficiency, Murray said.

"Our goal is to ensure that DFO's programs meet the needs and expectations of Indigenous communities, and support their participation in the management of fisheries, oceans, aquaculture and aquatic habitat and resources."

Rochelle Baker/Local Journalism Initiative/Canada's National Observer