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)

Push on to revive decades-dormant North Saanich shellfish harvest

Contamination from septic systems a major hurdle facing Pauquachin First Nation

Efforts to restore shellfish harvesting on the northwest edge of the Saanich Peninsula are picking up.

A pending report from the Capital Regional District (CRD) about the current state of the septic service system near Coles Bay marks an important step in plans by the Pauquachin First Nation for North Saanich’s 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.

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One possible solution is the municipality joining the onsite sewage system service the CRD offers.

The initiative to restore shellfish harvesting dates back to at least 2015 when the CRD’s First Nations Relations Division facilitatied meetings with an alphabet soup of agencies. These meetings eventually led to the Pauquachin First Nation request of to re-focus efforts at Coles Bay.

“Of all the other beaches on the Saanich Peninsula, Coles Bay has a much higher potential of re-opening,” a North Saanich staff report reads, quoting CRD staff.

Currently, Coles Bay is subject to a year-round, permanent ban on bivalve shellfish harvesting due to contamination.

“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.”

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.”

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wolfgang.depner@peninsulanewsreview.com