03/03/2015 11:33 EST | Updated 05/03/2015 05:59 EDT

Abalone harvest should be allowed for Gitxaala First Nation: UBC research

Research that delves thousands of years into the past could be key to allowing the Gitxaala First Nation on B.C.'s North Coast to harvest abalone again.

The iridescent shellfish have declined in numbers because of over harvesting and poaching in the last century, and the fisheries are closed along the entirety of the North Coast, including to First Nations.

U.B.C. professor of anthropology Charles Menzies' latest research argues abalone have been part of the Gitxaala's traditional way of life for at least 2,400 years.

"In one sense it's a reaffirmation of what every single hereditary leader or community elder and harvester has ever said," he told Daybreak North's Carolina de Ryk.

Menzies said his research alone won't be the deciding factor in allowing a First Nations' harvest. The pinto abalone are listed as threatened under the Species At Risk Act — and Menzies said their numbers continue to be threatened by poachers.

"When you would have a food social ceremony, that's a priority, unless the environmental risk trumps that, so what we really need to be doing is putting enforcement on the illegal dive poaching that's going on … if it only was a traditional harvest, there would be, I think, no difficulty, no problem."

To hear the full interview with Charles Menzies, click the audio labelled: New research shows Gitxaala ate abalone 2,400 years ago.