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Seeking certainty: a political ecology of shellfish aquaculture expansion on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
This dissertation documents the expansion of private access ocean tenures for shellfish aquaculture into the territory of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, Canada. The research illustrates how treaty making, promoted as a path to sovereignty for Aboriginal peoples, encouraged Nuu-chah-nulth participation in the nascent shellfish aquaculture industry and facilitated tenure expansion in Nuu-chah-nulth territory. The findings identify the potential that economic development programs in Aboriginal communities have to create uncertainties for non-industrial resource use, and to exacerbate vulnerability. The work also elaborates on the dynamics of politics and power in treaty making in British Columbia, and invites critical reflection on contemporary approaches to Aboriginal relations in the province. Informed by literatures regarding governance and neoliberalism, the dissertation builds around a case study of a shellfish aquaculture venture owned and operated by one Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation, the ka:’yu:’k’t’h/che:k:tles7et’h’. Facilitated by treaty mechanisms, the venture arose in the year 2000 and has faced difficulties in achieving profitability. In building and contextualizing the case, the dissertation: (1) highlights the diverse values that Nuu-chah-nulth peoples draw from the harvest of wild-growing shellfish; (2) presents a history of the shellfish aquaculture industry and the effort to place more ocean-based tenures in the province; (3) questions calculations regarding the economic potential of shellfish aquaculture in BC; (4) conveys the role of treaty-related instruments and experts in the ka:’yu:’k’t’h/che:k:tles7et’h’ venture; and, (5) identifies institutional change resulting from the 1998 Provincial Shellfish Development Initiative. The research is qualitative and employs both structural and discursive analysis. Ethnographic data was collected in ka:’yu:’k’t’h/che:k:tles7et’h’ territory during several field stays 2005-2008. Public discourse, testimonies to political committees, policy and treaty documents, and business plans are also central. I conclude that the equitable management of ocean space in British Columbia requires ongoing research regarding the allocation and retention of ocean-based tenures in Aboriginal communities, and the application of cost-benefit analysis that accurately accounts for local realities in decisions about the use of coastal resources.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Pinkerton, Evelyn
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