Coastal Guardian Watchmen: Stewarding Coastal Territories

The North Pacific Coast is a vast area that faces a number of threats to maintain healthy coastal ecosystems, including illegal forestry, recreation, fishing and hunting activities. Provincial and federal agencies all recognize they must cover this extensive area with limited staff, which is a major barrier to fulfilling compliance and enforcement mandates.

Coastal Guardian Watchmen help fill this gap by maintaining a strong presence in their territories. Since 2010, Guardians have recorded 38,964 hours of patrols, all registered in the Regional Monitoring System. While out on patrols or stationed in their territories, Guardians support compliance in different and complementary ways—by observing, recording, and reporting non-compliance, and by preventing non-compliance through visitor engagement.

There are countless examples of Guardians observing illegal activity, recording evidence, and reporting it to provincial and federal authorities. One example is monitoring crab traps. To avoid wasteful deaths, commercial crab traps are legally allowed to be in the water for a maximum of 18 days.

The Kitasoo Xai’xais Guardians monitor for compliance with an innovative tagging system. When traps are left for too long, Guardians notify DFO who use the tags as evidence for non-compliance. This system, developed by Kitasoo Xai’xais fishery Guardians, was used in 2016 to track 339 traps that had been left for up to 35 days, resulting in a $31,200 fine for the illegal activity.

In addition to saving crabs, these efforts also save money. Each time Guardians monitor traps in Kitasoo Xai’xais territory, the cost savings are $412 per trip, compared to DFO travelling to the location and monitoring the area for two hours.

Guardians also play a key role in educating resource users, so they are aware of how to respectfully engage in their activities. For example, a trip to Gwaii Haanas is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view wildlife and visit ancient Haida village sites. Haida Watchmen welcome visitors and share their knowledge of their ancestors and culture.

The education and stories provided by the Watchmen not only enriches the experience for visitors, but it is also a powerful tool for compliance. Ernie Gladstone, a Parks Canada field superintendent at Gwaii Haanas, commends the unique compliance role of Watchmen engaging with the public, noting that the personalized and unscripted stories of Watchmen educate the public and “results in people behaving appropriately and the sites being conserved.”

By the numbers

  • 38,964 = The number of hours of patrolling recorded by CFN Guardians since 2010
  • $412 = The cost savings per trip to monitor crab traps

Want to learn more?

Download our Case for Investment final report: Coastal Guardian Watchmen: Stewarding the Coast for All (pdf).