Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation Monitoring Territories for Oversoaked Crab Traps

Oversoaked crab traps are a problem in Kitasoo/Xai’xais territories. The Nation is working to gain increased authority to pull traps when necessary. Photo by Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance.

Kitasoo Stewardship Authority and the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Guardian Watchmen are busy patrolling their territories, and tracking oversoaked crab traps.

Their work has been supported by Coast Funds, through the conservation endowment fund, since 2009 and was recently featured in a Haida Gwaii Observer article by journalist Andrew Hudson. The story highlights the need to recognize Indigenous laws and authority, for the benefit of species and future generations on the coast. An excerpt is featured below:

Oversoaked crab traps show need for shared authority: Kitasoo Guardians

Ernie Mason knows that even 18 days is a long time to soak a crab trap.

That’s the legal limit for leaving a trap underwater. Any longer and the crab are likely to die and go to waste.

Two years ago, Mason and his wife Sandy Hankewich flagged a set of oversoaked traps just north of their home in Klemtu. There were 339 traps in all, and over half were soaked for a month or more.

A waterproof crab trap tag created by Ernie Mason and Sandy Hankewich to try and stop oversoaking in Kitasoo/Xai’xais territories. Photo via Haida Gwaii Observer.

It wasn’t the first time Mason has seen something similar — since 1993, he has worked the waters around Klemtu as part of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais fisheries program.

But this time was different. This time, Mason and Hankewich had a homemade system of waterproof, date-stamped trap tags and photo evidence to match.

And this time, as the Observer reported in September, their work led to a $31,200 fine against two lifelong fishermen, not only for oversoaking the traps near Klemtu, but also for cutting up live halibut for bait while fishing north of Masset.

When Mason and Hankewich found the 339 oversoaked traps in 2016, they notified the local Kitasoo/Xai’xais Guardian Watchmen as well as the DFO — it’s a grassroots effort that grew out of the Haida Gwaii Watchmen program.

Sam Harrison, a lawyer and consultant with the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Stewardship Authority, said the Watchmen knew the traps were down, knew they were killing crabs, but did not have the authority to pull them.

Had DFO worked more closely with the Watchmen, Harrison said, many crabs could have been protected and the penalties still imposed.

“It’s an ongoing issue that we don’t have that authority under Canadian law,” Harrison said.

“The Guardian Watchmen here really want to work with Canada, and to do the monitoring for DFO.”

Read the full article on Haida Gwaii Observer.