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First Nations fisheries beat court snag

The federal government has lost its bid to overturn a British Columbia court decision that recognized First Nations' rights to a commercial fishery.

The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed Ottawa's application on Thursday for leave to appeal the lower court decisions, bringing an end a long legal fight with five of the Nuu-chah-nulth nations of Vancouver Island.

"The decision is an overwhelming victory for the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation, who have spent more than a decade fighting the case," said Deb Foxcroft, President of the tribal council.

"The Nuu-cha-nulth people have always been involved in commercial fishery but they've been pushed out of this fishery because of the government's policies and regulations."

The five bands — the Ahousaht, Ehattesaht/Chinekint, Hesquiaht, Mowachaht/ Muchalaht, and Tla-o-qui-aht — said fisheries formed the backbone of their trading economy long before the arrival of Europeans.

They argued, successfully, that translates into a right to conduct a modern commercial fishery for fish and shellfish, and not just a subsistence food fishery.

The federal government challenged the claim. The BC government, BC Wildlife Federation, BC Seafood Alliance and the Underwater Harvesters Research Society were interveners in the case.

An official at Fisheries Minister Gail Shea's office declined a request for an interview with the minister, saying DFO is currently reviewing the decision.

The Canadian Press

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