The first herring spawn began today in the Great Bear Rainforest. A keystone ritual that has provided a foundation of life, so revered over the last ten thousand years that the Heiltsuk new year is marked by the miracle of the herring spawn.
Like a gathering shadow, herring have been filling the bays and inlets of the central coast these past weeks while salmon, wolves, bears and whales close in on the herring spawning grounds ready for the first big feast of the year. Normally this would be a cause of celebration and renewal for the Heiltsuk people, but these days this spawning event seems more like a lament fuelled by anger and controversy.
Against all principles of precaution and conservation, the Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea chose to open the corporate-controlled industrial kill fishery that will target these fragile remnant stocks. By doing this she is ignoring the pleas of First Nations while also overruling her very own scientists who recommended a closure in 2014.
The Minister is also jeopardizing the Heiltsuk traditional spawn on kelp fishery that collects a small amount of the eggs but allows the adults to live and spawn in future years. By all accounts the Heiltsuk fishery is a sustainable, community-based alternative to the DFO-supported fishery that indiscriminately kills both male and female herring of all sizes. The DFO model strips the females of eggs and the rest ends up as pet food or fishing bait.
And for what? The fishing fleet that has arrived here has a 750-tonne harvest quota valued at around $200 per tonne. Most of these boats have already incurred over $20,000 in expenses, when fuel, crew and licenses are added up – before a single fish is caught.
So no one is making money on this fishery. In days gone by 30,000 or 40,000 tonnes were taken by the fleet here, and a big year was 60,000 tonnes. DFO states they are only taking ten or twenty percent of the fish biomass. But that is ten or twenty percent of
a stock that is on the verge of collapse.
Another hallmark of the herring season is the heavy-handed presence of RCMP officers that arrive with the fleet. There have been six RCMP boats stationed here on Denny Island along with two-dozen officers ready to enforce this desperate fishery. A needless waste of public money is being used to intimidate a small community that is simply fighting for the future of herring.
The ecological tragedy that this coast suffers because of the unsustainable herring kill fishery is made even worse when DFO knows there is a sustainable solution. They should be supporting the Heiltsuk in rebuilding herring stocks while practicing sustainable harvest methods such as the spawn on kelp fishery.
For twenty-five years I have watched the Heiltsuk fight for sustainable management of their local stocks, sacrificing their own economic interests in favour of conservation. They have done everything possible from the courts to the frontlines of the herring grounds to convince the federal government to simply back off and give the stocks a chance to rebuild.
For a community that right up until the industrial fishing began here can show ten thousand years of documented and uninterrupted history with herring, perhaps it is time that DFO came to Bella Bella and listened.
Canadians should do everything possible to support this community in their fight to protect a species that has built and sustained so many for so long.
Our volunteer copywriter Danielle explains how a Lake Louise wildlife centre and a search on Google led her to the Great Bear Rainforest.
Three months ago, I’d never even heard of the Great Bear Rainforest. Now, here I am, living in the thick of it.
I came to Canada in April last year, an English woman hankering after the outdoors. The real outdoors. Open horizons, epic mountains, space. I came looking for forests and rich-hued lakes, for the great mammals, for a life lived in closer connection with the Earth. I came in search of the wilds that in my so-called ‘old’ country no longer exist. I found all of this, and it put me on a path that led to Denny Island, and Pacific Wild HQ.
My epiphany happened back in August, during a trip to the Canadian Rockies. At a wildlife interpretive centre in Lake Louise, I was sadden to learn that the majority of recorded bear deaths in the Rocky Mountain parks are a direct result of human activity. Behind the bear-wary precautions we took as tourists out on the hiking trails – singing, jangling bells, scrutinizing scat – and behind our half-nervous jokes about ending up as a bear snack, a real irony lay. As much as we were sensible to give Canada’s great iconic mammal a wide berth, the truth is that we have far less reason to fear it than it does to be terrified of us.
Once I’d seen wild Black bears with my own eyes, that was it. I couldn’t get those beautiful bears, or their breathtaking habitat, out of my head. My growing concern for a world of shrinking forests and melting ice caps, and my growing love for Canada – the real, wild Canada – spurred me into action. I wanted to experience the wilderness, and I wanted to make my own contribution towards protecting it.
Unearthing the Great Bear
After some rummaging around on Google, I found Pacific Wild. I learned that there was a Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia. I learned that Black bears could be white, and that it’s legal to shoot grizzlies for no other reason than a warped and marginally held concept of ‘sport’. I learned just how willfully governments, conventional energy corporations and a tiny minority of B.C.’s citizens are ignoring the astonishing, life-affirming natural wealth that’s been gifted to them. One of the last untouched stretches of our blue marble planet. A place I traveled seven and a half thousand kilometres to discover.
My role in the all-new Pacific Wild website!
So here I am on Denny Island. I’m thrilled that my skills in charity comms and Web writing are being put to good use in the development of Pacific Wild’s brand new site. I can’t wait to see it launched! It’s going to be visually stunning, informative and easy to navigate – a showcase for the world-class photography, Great Bear LIVE footage and audio that will have the natural world leaping off your screens and into your homes, wherever you may be.
I hope that the new pacificwild.org will aid your own discoveries of this ancient coastal forest, its waterways and ocean – all teeming with life. May it bring a touch of wild beauty to your day. And may that experience inspire you to take action in whatever small way you can. It’s your little act, added to the little acts of many others, that in the end will add up to a big force for change.
We’ll be announcing the launch date of the new pacificwild.org on our social media sites in the coming weeks, so make sure you follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @pacificwild to stay up to date!
Despite the pouring rain and high winds, more than 200 people turned up in person for the “Save B.C. Bears” rally on February 15, 2014 at the Legislature Buildings in Victoria, British Columbia. Supporters of all ages, carrying signs and placards, came to protest against the unsustainable, unethical and immoral trophy hunt in British Columbia. Speakers at the event included nationally celebrated poetry “power couple” Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane, MLA Andrew Weaver, eco-tourism operator Eric Boyum, bear guide Neil Shearer, and the legendary environmentalist Vicky Husband.
The aim of the event was to tell B.C.’s elected representatives that the trophy hunting of B.C.’s grizzly bears and black bears must stop, and that grizzly hunting in the Cariboo and Kootenays must not be re-opened this spring.
A recent report published in January 2014 by the Center for Responsible Tourism (CREST) in collaboration with Stanford University highlighted the eco-tourism dollars to be gained in British Columbia from the thousands of tourists who come to view rather than kill wildlife, taking home photographs rather than dead animal parts for display. CREST’s report Economic Impact of Bear Viewing and Bear Hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia, finds that bear viewing generates “12 times more in visitor spending than bear hunting and over 11 times in direct revenue for B.C.’s provincial government.” Furthermore, on a purely employment-related note, bear viewing companies directly employed an estimated 510 persons, compared with the 11 persons employed by guide hunting outfitters in 2012.
Tourists from all over the world flock to our province of Beautiful British Columbia. Take the B.C. ferry between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert during the spring and summer months and you will meet an array of visitors from Europe (many from Germany), Australia, Asia and North America who are excited to be experiencing Canada’s great outdoors, whether they’re here to surf, kayak, or capture wildlife on their cameras. Some lucky ones have arranged to go on a famed spirit bear and grizzly bear guided tour on the central and north coast, an experience of a lifetime! Without a doubt tourism in our province is only on the rise, and bear-viewing is a definite factor in this.
It’s from the grassroots level that we can make our voices heard and continue to keep this topic in the forefront of the media. On the day of the rally we collected 205 signed letters from rally participants. However, it was through the power of social media that those who could not attend added their voice. Through a SayZu Communications/Social Media experiment, people could text and tweet their opinions LIVE. The ripple effect was tremendous! In ONE HOUR, 450 people sent out 1,200 tweets and texts representing a total unique reach of 412,197 twitter feeds. The hashtag #notrophyhunting even made the Canada twitter trends map!
You can keep the momentum going!
- Write letters to elected officials and your local and national newspapers. Addresses can be found here. For more background information on the hunt visit Pacific Wild’s Trophy Hunt Action page.
- Educate those around you by hosting a film screening of Bear Witness, a film by B.C. Coastal First Nations
- Sign the PETITION
- Utilize social media #notrophyhunt @ChristyClarkBC.
An Insights West poll from November 2013 finds 9/10 British Columbians are against trophy hunting. ARE YOU?
Keep us posted on facebook and twitter @pacificwild
If Canada has not yet been formally inducted into the elite roster of global petro-states, where a country’s democratic rights and economy are run by oil interests, then Thursday’s National Energy Board decision assures it honorary membership
The federal cabinet now has 180 days to make a final decision on bringing tar sands oil to the Great Bear Rainforest. As one journalist recently summed up this phase of the process, “Prime Minister Stephen Harper now has 180 days to choose which rubber stamp to use.“
Like a group of hyenas shredding a carcass, Enbridge and the Federal government will be working tirelessly to twist the 209 conditions attached to the JRP report into a confusion of meaningless, discretionary and unenforceable measures until the phalanx of big oil lobbyists is placated.
If this sounds overly cynical, I urge you to scan the 400 plus page report: http://gatewaypanel.review-examen.gc.ca/clf-nsi/dcmnt/rcmndtnsrprt/rcmndtnsrprt-eng.html. In the meantime here are a few nuggets I have come across:
On page 18, the panel states that in the event “…of a large oil spill, we found that there would be significant adverse effects on lands, waters, or resources used by residents, communities, and Aboriginal groups. We found that the adverse effects would not be permanent and widespread.”
An oil spill clean up is considered ‘successful’ when 10-15% of the spilled oil is recovered. This means in a best-case spill scenario approximately 90% of Enbridge’s tar-like oil will be left for nature to clean up.
The proposed tanker route is arguably the most important critical habitat for humpback whales on the entire B.C. coast. On page 242 this is how the NEB proposes mitigation for whale disturbance: “Feeding humpback whales occur in other locations along the coast of BC and feeding habitat is available to individuals potentially displaced from the project area.”
Nice one, the whales can just move north where there are multiple LNG tanker projects proposed around the Prince Rupert area or perhaps they could move south to see how they fit into Kinder Morgan’s pipeline and tanker expansion plans.
On page 17 of the report, the JRP denies a significant connection between the proposed project and any upstream or downstream impacts. This means that the effects associated with expansion of the tar sands or the refineries in Asia that would be a significant contributor to runaway climate change were not considered in their analysis:
“Many people said the project would lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental and social effects from oil sands development. We did not consider that there was a sufficiently direct connection between the project and any particular existing or proposed oil sands development or other oil production activities to warrant consideration of the effects of these activities.”
Yet the JRP gave plenty of space to the economic benefits that expansion of the Alberta tar sands would generate. It is clear that the NEB is a facilitator of oil projects and not a regulator as it was once meant to be.
Is there good news? Yes, definitely. The painful and insulting charade of the JRP public process is finally over. We also no longer have to delude ourselves into hoping that the panel would reach a democratic decision, one that would respect aboriginal rights, public interest and the environment.
I imagine when people get a chance to digest the content of the JRP report, they will get angry, really angry. Over 10,000 people contributed letters of comment or oral statements to the JRP process, an overwhelming majority (over 96%) of whom spoke out against the proposed project. According to the JRP report, their voices were heard, but not significantly incorporated into the final analysis. On page 14 of the report, the JRP states:
“We considered all the information and views filed on the public record. Our process was designed to receive all perspectives. Our recommendations are based on technical and scientific analysis rather than the on number of participants sharing common views either for or against the project.”
Yet they go on to declare that this project is “…in the Canadian public interest.”
Page 21 is a dandy where the panel states: “We were not persuaded that construction and routine operations of the project would have a negative effect on the social fabric of communities in the project area. We also were not persuaded that the project would adversely affect the health and wellbeing of people and communities along the route or in coastal areas.”
This one will haunt them. The panel is basically dismissing an unprecedented number of submissions, including 1,179 oral statements, 175,669, pages of evidence and 884 hours of hearings. Perhaps they should have told Canadians a few years ago that public participation would ultimately be ignored.
It is clear that this facade of a process was scripted many years ago by oil interests, but if this is Enbridge’s best foot forward we should be heartened. The gaps in this report are big enough to drive an oil tanker through, and what is going to follow will make the 40 year (and counting) Mackenzie valley pipeline process seem streamlined. Environmental and constitutional legal battles, pending elections and an increasingly concerned and committed citizenry will ensure that this pipeline is never built.
As we lament for a Canada that we once knew, let’s take heart in knowing that all cards are now on the table. No more waiting for government or anyone else to protect our coast and chart a sustainable future for us. That responsibility is clearly on our shoulders and we will be doubling our efforts to realize this dream for our coast.
As Haisla spokesperson Gerald Amos stated in the media yesterday when asked if he would consider civil disobedience in the future. “I don’t consider it being disobedient when I am obeying my elders and traditional laws while protecting my home.”
I like that and as this last roller coaster of a year comes to a close, I also pledge to be a little bit more obedient in the times ahead.
Happy Holidays to you and yours.
It’s not normally recommended to expose yourself so entirely; out here storms from the southeast can churn up the seas before you can say ‘purple ringed top snail’. Bobbing over the remnant swells from the last blow, we look back at the mainland before it blurs into a darkened silhouette of peaks and valleys that make up the coast mountain range. With anchor secured, we are visited by a gang of Steller sea lions, a family of river otters and the bulbous heads and watchful eyes of harbour seals in every quiet cove.
As the western sun dips below the horizon, leaving its imprint of amber and crimson light, we soak in the panorama atop a rock nearby our lonely anchorage. We hear the squeals of a sea otter pup before it comes into view, riding on its mother’s furry stomach. A curiously placed snowy owl lands on an islet nearby as we savor the experiences of another wonderfully rich and diverse day.
Extra preparation was required for today: extra paddles, air tanks, VHF radios and a sat phone, in addition to a pre-departure agreement on emergency hand signals. Rising up the steep swells in our trusty dinghy, the three of us hunkered down as white foam whipped across us. I was jealous of Ian and Tav’s dry suits. After thirty dives this past week, the divers have fallen into a familiar rhythm, and as they drop to the bottom I could see the waves of mysids flowing over them. Later they would tell me that these tiny shrimp were so thick that they blocked out the sun.
In mixed seas like this it was hopeless to keep track of their bubbles, so I relied on the strobe from Ian’s flash to monitor their positions. So much shrimp biomass ensured the surface lens was covered in sea birds and plenty of fish below.
The third dive of the day was chosen up a quiet pass, protected from the ocean swell but with lots of tidal current pushing late season bull kelp forests. I could see dozens of harbour seals swimming below in the crystal clear water weaving back and forth as they curiously watched on.
Tuning into the weather channel brings news of storm conditions descending on our rocky perch, so we make a late departure for the safety of the mainland; now instead of big swells and surfing pescavores the tannin waters of the mainland bring brilliant orange sea pens, fields of nudibranchs and a travelling group of transient orcas. After breakfast, Ian admits he’s behind on some paperwork (some excuse about due dates for a book) and sits out the morning’s dive, so Tav had the pleasure of yours truly filling in as his dive partner – what a wonderful treat to see it first hand!
The days have gone too quickly and we have only explored a tiny fragment of the Great Bear Sea, but bearing witness to this rarely-observed world has been a gift. It’s not just the magnificent combination of flora, fauna and geology that faces such an uncertain future, it’s also the human communities that rely on the health of these systems. The continuing fight against oil tankers is found in the unity of all nations, in the unprecedented alliance of the walkers and swimmers, of the slimy and spiny. And perhaps if you experience a moment of despair for this coast, know that there are thousands and millions of creatures still blowing bubbles for the Great Bear Sea!
Thanks for reading!
Ian, Tavish and Ashley
Ashley Stocks is on a Pacific Wild diving expedition through the Great Bear Sea and will be uploading a three part blog series with new images and footage.
A twice daily flushing and filling of lagoons creates the dynamic environment that supports diversity, strengthening the fabric of the natural world here and the main ingredient that Ian and Tavish are searching for – strong tidal current! We anchored up shortly before dark and Tavish was eager to get in the water. Ian fielded media calls from the Habitat while I cooked up some dinner; back at Pacific Wild headquarters, international media are reporting on the amazing fishing wolf coverage their remote cameras are getting. Tav emerged with stories of an overly curious octopus – apparently he’s a sucker for a good close up.
There’s a special time when ebb turns to flood and the only indication of current is the twisted up bull kelp laying battered on the surface. This time of year you’re lucky if you have two slack tides in daylight, but we missed it. Our first dive was about 0900, two hours before low slack, so Ian and Tav ducked into eddies out of the 12 knots of white water that was pouring out of the lagoon. I tied the tender to an overhanging tree, finding solace in the low boughs like the belted kingfishers. Peering over the side of the dinghy I got a taste of the beauty below, I could see green surf and plumose anemones and a few schooling striped sea perch, anticipating what Ian and Tav had captured in this challenging environment.
The following day, low slack was timed well; midday it was supposed to turn. With enough time for a morning dive to get the kinks worked out, I drop the divers on the edge of the raging current. It was a stunner of a morning: clear sky, great blue herons fishing the shore, cormorants and grebes pursuing the swift water, and a sea lion, investigative of the dual streams of bubbles rising up from below.
Back on Habitat, the crew busily set up for our window of stillness, lights were charged and air tanks were filled. Ian and Tav donned their suits in giddy anticipation of such ideal conditions – slack tide, excellent visibility, no wind, a reliable tender to fetch them, and sunshine!
We arrived on scene with water still draining from the lagoon. With each diver set up in his chosen spot, I fastened the boat to a few stipes of kelp. Above the water, everything went quiet and the stillness was enchanting. It took only a minute for my kelp hitching post to go slack and slowly bow in the opposite direction, indicating the flood was on the way. Below the water, all types of fish came up from their bunkers and swam about freely, enjoying the brief relief from their windy existence.
Our time was spent well in the protection of these tidal lagoons and the divers’ spectacular images and footage will surely become part of the conservation agenda in the coming months, but for now it’s time to move on. The tender is hauled out and lashed in its cradle, air tanks are tied down, and the galley’s contents are stowed securely away as we work our way to the wave-beaten outer coast.
Ashley Stocks is on a Pacific Wild diving expedition through the Great Bear Sea and will be uploading a three part blog series with new images and footage.
A quick remedy of tape around the neck cuff of Ian’s loaned oversized drysuit made the seal watertight against the numbing North Pacific. Equipped with lead weights, air tank, and gauges dragging along the bottom of our dinghy, I eagerly tied the bow line to the bough of a fallen cedar. In my bold reach and instability, I fell right out of the boat onto the rocks. My mask could not find a seal against my face and my feet had slipped out of the suit feet, leaving my flippers limply clinging to empty rubber. But eventually I descended, all sounds fell away into silence and I entered another world… through my blurry mask were thousands of hooded nudibranchs clinging to giant kelp, waiting for zooplankton to enter their fleshy nets. Only moments ago, a group of mammal-eating orcas, celebrating a recent meal, glided under the twin hulls of our sailing vessel, slapping tail flukes and showing their white bellies as they vanished into the misty distance.
* * * *
It’s always exciting when seasons change on the coast, deciduous trees drop their leaves, the air cools and adopts the comforting scent of fir fire smoke, and humpback whales start their southbound migration. But perhaps most noticeably, salmon carcasses remain in rivers as essential nutrients, while fertilized eggs are left to over-winter in their frigid watery baths – the promise of a future for all species. Most of the larger predators have moved out of the valley bottoms and onto winter living, fat with salmon omegas, onto a life of minimal daylight and ruthless coastal storms. But today the coast is cold and quiet as we get ready to cast off on this underwater exploration.
There are always a few things to work through on the days leading up to a trip and this time our sailing vessel Habitat required minimal attention before charging into heavy seas and gleaming bays. More dire pre-departure agendas, at least for the Denny Island kids, were the Sunday soccer game and helping neighbours move engine blocks up a flight of stairs.
Through these dive surveys, Tavish and Ian hope to document in video and still imagery, the delicate workings of the seascape that are so rarely seen and reported. The aim is to collect unique observations, accounts, and behaviours of submarine creatures during a season that is largely unvisited along this highly threatened coastline.
I am closing in on my fifth year crewing on boats on the coast of B.C. now, and on this expedition, I’ve been tasked with keeping track of things on the surface: looking after the tender, crew nutrition, and watching the diver’s exhalations – boils and bubbles indicating their positions below.
* * * *
Launching our first dive at King Island, we get into the routine and testing of equipment. From my vantage point, I spot a belted kingfisher perched low over the water darting about and following Ian’s bubbles while Tavish brings up his first footage from depth, a psychedelic box crab, cruising the ocean bottom.
We continue south to Namu; a once thriving and bustling cannery (B.C. Packers) is now abandoned and vacant of a responsible land-owner. Perhaps a fault of the economy, or bad parenting, there is lacking desire to clean up the mess after boom and bust, and now Namu crumbles iconically leaching harmful waste into the mouth of a salmon bearing stream. The concern here is not the retroaction of the parties responsible, it is the adequacy in coping with modern messes, say, a V.L.C.C. gushing out barrels of bitumen into critical fin whale habitat and river estuaries.
A few miles down Fitz Hugh Sound, we set the hook at the mouth of the Koeye River. The clarity of the water here shows the divers’ bubbles climbing emerald green through the water column. I find comfort knowing they’re snapping away while I bravely keep guard, paddling around in the tender left to my thoughts -
An adventure but surely with a purpose – an expose of sub-tidal Great Bear Sea! Perhaps we do this for our children who will strive to make a life on this coast, or for the folks in Washington, D.C. who listen to the live feed of the audio from Pacific Wild’s remote cameras so they too can enjoy howling wolves from their office chairs. Or it’s because salmon swim every inch of the coastline feeding all nations – the towering spruce of valley bottoms and scarlet anemones.
* * * *
Casting my gaze towards Hakai Pass, a few remaining humpback whale spouts are spotted against the darkened shore, and a quick snorkel trip up the river reveals two juvenile grizzlies, searching for the last of the pinks in a late pulse up their natal stream.
Out here, the most influential agent of landscape change is fluids. Water carving and dissolving, wind throwing up great stands of forest and soil, and ice sculpting peaks and fjords, defining the geography of this coastline. The great mass of ice, 10,000 years ago, causing areas to bulge up, while others only miles away, were pushed deep into the ocean resulting in a staggering variability of sea level. You could imagine then, there might be a place where the land wasn’t depressed nor bulged (like that of the fulcrum of a teeter-totter), a unique attribute of the coast where sea level has been relatively constant.
Knowing this might change the way you look at the landscape. Ecological communities could be much older than once perceived and perhaps a more refined use of the coastal zone, would be common among all species that have resided here since the last glacial maximum. Perhaps Ian and Tavish are documenting ancient adaptations of the creatures here, in their quest for survival in the Great Bear Sea.