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A group from the Nuu-Chah-Nulth First Nation has become the majority shareholder of the last salmon cannery on the BC coast.

Recently a five-member First Nations group purchased St Jean's Cannery from the St Jean family in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.

This move represents the first time in more than 50 years that the cannery and smokehouse will be controlled by someone other than the St Jean family. The cannery, which operates stores and sport fishing depots in Port Alberni, Campbell River, and Richmond, was founded in 1961 by Armand St Jean, and is the last on the BC coast. They specialize in canned and smoked tuna, salmon, oysters and other products for Canadian, American and Australian markets. The company employs 130 people.

NCN Cannery LP, owned by a group from Nuu-Chah-Nulth First Nation, has joined the 55-year-old business as its majority shareholder in a move the company said will strengthen seafood production on Vancouver Island.

The company's marketing manager Derek Perkins said the partnership is a win-win.

“Doing a partnership with the First Nations allows us to take advantage of their fishing quota as well,” he said, noting the business was built on sport fishing and wild salmon. Perkins said the expectation is it will be business as usual for the next five or so years, with no significant change or expansion.

For NCN Cannery, it means a closer relationship with the plant where the First Nations have been processing fish.

Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood Development Corporation represents five West Coast First Nations from the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council.

The deal was 18 months in the making, and followed four years of negotiations. The plan is for the new aboriginal owners to expand access to finfish and shellfish from their territories.

Larry Johnson, Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood Development Corporation president, said the deal re-establishes his peoples’ connection with their traditional livelihoods.

“Not only do we want to raise the awareness of St Jean’s, but also do the things that he’s doing well already and try to do them better if that’s at all possible,” Johnson said.