Strengthening Our Relationship - The Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy and Beyond - Executive Summary

In the Spring of 2002, officials from Fisheries and Oceans Canada participated in a series of meetings with Aboriginal groups interested in the Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy (AFS). We received honest and frank feedback on a full range of issues, and are grateful to all who attended or provided input.

There appeared to be mutual agreement on potential guiding principles for addressing the limitations of the Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy. First, we must develop stable programs that reflect and reinforce our long-term involvement together. Second, the growing breadth and complexity of our relationship needs to be further embraced and advanced. Third, durable structures and capacity need to be put in place that allow DFO and Aboriginal groups to work together effectively. Finally, we should build upon what works well in our present relationship.

With these principles in mind, we are proposing several initiatives at this time that we hope will speak to concerns raised during the 2002 discussions, and at the same time renew and further develop our relationship.

  1. Renewed commitment and approaches to the AFS;
  2. A new Aboriginal aquatic resource and oceans management initiative;
  3. Better programming coordination with other federal departments, and potential changes to DFO's own practices and approaches.

Proposal 1. Renewal of the Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy -
Maintaining the AFS core mandate

DFO believes that the original objectives of the AFS continue to have merit and should remain the heart of the program. As such, the AFS would remain an initiative that supports the management of the fishery in a manner consistent with Sparrow and subsequent case law, and that engages Aboriginal groups in the management of the fisheries in which they participate.

DFO would nonetheless seek to build on success and develop more durable, sophisticated and forward looking fisheries management arrangements and structures.

Longer term, simpler AFS agreements

We propose multi-year AFS agreements that are simpler and easier to read, and which contain new language that addresses concerns that some groups have with respect to particular wording.

Straightforward, streamlined reporting requirements

Aboriginal groups have increasingly expressed a concern about having to prepare many reports for different programs, many of which are duplicative. At the same time, however, the standard of accountability and open and transparent decision-making and reporting for all levels of government is increasing. In a renewed AFS, we would work with Aboriginal groups and other federal departments to develop a reporting system that is streamlined, relevant to both Aboriginal groups and government, and that will support an effective evaluation of the program.

Flexible approach to capacity-building and economic opportunities

A renewed program would focus on the specific needs and priorities of Aboriginal groups and DFO. Accordingly, there would be a renewed and flexible focus on developing Aboriginal capacity to participate effectively over the long term in areas related to fisheries management. There would also be a renewed focus on economic opportunities.

Better communications

A communications strategy would be developed for the AFS program that clearly outlines the department's objectives and key messages, and introduces a series of products and activities aimed at increased understanding of the program - for Aboriginal groups, other stakeholders and government employees.

Proposal 2. The Aboriginal Aquatic Resource and Oceans Management Program (AAROM)

We recognize, however, that it will continue to remain a challenge for the AFS to fully keep pace in a rapidly changing context. Aboriginal groups are seeking greater participation in decision-making and advisory processes used for aquatic resource and oceans management. DFO's expanding responsibilities require engaging with Aboriginal groups on a broad range of issues, including oceans management, habitat management and planning, environmental assessment and species at risk. Existing Aboriginal programming is focused on fisheries management, limiting the department's ability to respond effectively to the evolving aspirations of Aboriginal people.

To address these realities and some of the broader proposals and innovative practices presented to us, the 2003 federal budget committed two years of funding to enhance the ability of Aboriginal communities, working together, to participate in aquatic resource decision-making and management processes.

During the first year (2003-04), DFO proposes to undertake discussions on programming design and implementation with Aboriginal groups and other interested parties. In the second year (2004-05), $7 million has been identified to get the program started. As a first step, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans recently announced the new Aboriginal Aquatic Resource and Oceans Management Program, the proposed centrepiece of a longer term strategy focused on capacity building and strengthening professional relationships.

Program Overview

Taking into account the differing capacities and priorities of Aboriginal groups, the proposed AAROM program is designed to assist Aboriginal groups in developing the capacity to play a more active role in key areas of fisheries and oceans management. Particular emphasis is placed on Aboriginal participation in multilateral decision-making and advisory processes that involve fishers, scientists, industry representatives, conservation groups, DFO officials, and other government departments.

These ideas arose out of the 2002 AFS discussions, and from the innovative practices used by Aboriginal groups that have come together, used DFO program funding to develop their own capacity, and then leveraged additional government and private sector funding. The AAROM has also been designed around practical considerations of watershed and ecosystem management, and best use of the limited funds available.

Multi-year funding could be available to groups in areas where DFO manages the fishery, and where the above elements have not been addressed through a comprehensive land claims settlement. We would also like to emphasize that the AFS would remain available for groups that do not initially qualify for AAROM or that are not interested in participating in the new programming.

Cooperative, cost-effective participation in areas of DFO responsibility

The central focus of the program would be support for Aboriginal groups that come together on a voluntary basis to create common aquatic management structures. These bodies would be designed to serve at a level between member-communities and multi-stakeholder processes, and as such, could serve as a cost-effective focal point for interaction with the full range of DFO sectors and programs.

The role, structure and staffing would be up to the member-communities involved. Depending on the priorities and capacity of the membership, program funding may provide access to professional personnel such as a coordinator, fisheries manager, biologist or technologist, as well as administrative staff. This may also include support for office space, computer and liaison-related expenses. The program is designed to support the creation of new bodies or the enhancement of existing structures where appropriate.

It should be noted that the AAROM program in general would not fund projects. AAROM focuses instead on sharing expertise among member-communities in a cost-effective manner, and facilitation of Aboriginal participation in aquatic resources and oceans management processes through capacity development.

It is important to bear in mind that program funding constraints as set out in the 2003 federal budget would limit the number of Aboriginal aquatic management bodies supported under the program and the scope of their activities. As a result, it is anticipated that the program would provide for only a limited number of common management structures in the first few years.

Such support is not intended to replace the vital and essential relationship between DFO and Aboriginal groups - but to strengthen and complement it for practical and mutual benefit. Accordingly, DFO would continue to respect its existing obligations to individual member-communities under AAROM.

Aboriginal Fishery Officers (AFOs)

One of the functions of a proposed aquatic management body could be the engagement of Aboriginal Fishery Officers. AFOs could be employees of Fisheries and Oceans Canada or the Aboriginal aquatic management body, depending on whether a proper command and control structure is in place. In either case, they would undergo the same training and exercise the same enforcement authorities as DFO fishery officers, and would be assigned to the participating member-communities. Specific roles, functions and reporting relationships would be outlined in arrangements between DFO and the AAROM body. It should be noted that proposed programming may only support the training and hiring of a limited number of AFOs.

Programming criteria

To be eligible for programming support, a number of criteria would need to be met. For example, there would need to be a demonstrated commitment to establish an aquatic management body serving a number of Aboriginal communities situated, to the extent possible, along a watershed or ecosystem, that would operate independently of day-to-day political influence, and that would possess open and transparent reporting mechanisms to member-communities.

Preference would be given to Aboriginal communities with sound business and resource management planning and practices, a record of complying with DFO reporting requirements, and a commitment to the core principles of conservation and sustainable development. Applications for funding would also be considered on the basis of need.

Building Aboriginal capacity in aquatic resource management

Capacity-building funding could be made available to assist Aboriginal communities unable to meet the above programming criteria. This is part of a flexible approach that recognizes that Aboriginal groups are at different stages of capacity development and have different priorities. Funding may be provided, for example, to assist in the development of sound business and resource planning practices or in the design of a preliminary feasibility study as part of an AAROM funding submission.

Commercial fishing and aquaculture opportunities

Under this programming component, Aboriginal communities could be provided access to coastal commercial fisheries on the basis of need. This would take place through the voluntary retirement of licences from existing commercial licence holders and issuance of communal commercial licences to specific communities, or through other arrangements mutually agreed upon. Funding may also be provided to promote the development of capacity related to aquaculture. This could include support for information, training or educational initiatives that promote innovative, profitable and environmentally sound aquatic farming.

It is proposed that these opportunities would be provided to member-communities of the Aboriginal aquatic management body funded under AAROM, and on condition that a portion of gross revenues be applied against the AFS funding of the member-community.

The relationship between the AFS and AAROM

We would therefore like to talk with Aboriginal groups about the relationship between AFS and AAROM. The AFS will continue to be available for all eligible groups. Groups participating in AAROM would be asked to contribute (or combine) a portion of this AFS funding to their new AAROM program funding. The details of how the two programs would interact together remain to be worked out on a case-by-case basis.

Proposal 3. Strategic opportunities within and beyond DFO

The department fully understands that to be effective and relevant, DFO must also build its own capacity to better engage with Aboriginal groups. We need to foster recognition of Aboriginal perspectives as an important component of DFO's program design and implementation, and ensure that our sectors address Aboriginal issues in a more consistent manner. The department is therefore looking at potential changes to its own practices and approaches in a number of areas. This could include employee cross-cultural training, greater inter-sectoral coordination, and personnel interchange with Aboriginal communities.

Aboriginal representatives and DFO program managers have also emphasized the importance of providing Aboriginal groups with an effective window to other federal departments with programs beyond DFO's mandate. While we will continue to focus on DFO's core mandate, we will attempt to respond more effectively to requests for assistance outside of our mandate by bringing other departments and programs to the table, by facilitating a more cross-departmental approach to dealing with issues, and by supporting Aboriginal groups with related programming.

In particular, we are committed to improving linkages for Aboriginal groups to the federal Procurement Strategy for Aboriginal Business (PSAB) and other initiatives for Aboriginal business, and to federal departments with economic development mandates.

DFO recognizes that the proposed initiatives will not be able to reflect all comments and suggestions received from Aboriginal groups during the 2002 discussions. Controversial matters of long-standing importance to Aboriginal groups remain unresolved. However, we remain committed to keeping the channels of communication open on these and other issues in order to try to find the common ground, and see what can be done to make the DFO-Aboriginal relationship more effective and more responsive.