Monday, November 9, 2009

A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright

I was going to post some thoughts about a book I've been reading recently, entitled, The Last Great Sea by Terry Glavin, a voyage through the human and natural history of the North Pacific Ocean, and I will, but a slim volume by another Canadian writer interrupted that process.

In A Short History of Progress, Ronald Wright, tries to tell us, not only of his attempt to understand where modern man and his civilizations came from but where we may be headed.

It is no secret that the twentieth century was a time of runaway growth in human numbers, consumption and technology, placing a colossal load on all our natural systems, especially earth air and water - the very elements of life. The great question for the twenty-first century is how, or whether, this can go on.

The title of the first chapter, Gauguin's Questions, came from the title of one of the French painter's works, Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?
It is Gauguin's third question - Where are we going? - that Wright tries to address in this book.
He feels that by answering the other two questions first we can answer it - broad strokes.
If we see clearly what we are and what we have done, we can recognize human behavior that persists through many times and cultures. Knowing this can tell us what we are likely to do and where we are likely to go from here.

The second chapter, The Great Experiment, gives us a brief, colourful description of the early origins of our species, describing at one point the 10,000 year old Neanderthal/Cro-Magnon struggle as early man made his way out of Africa. Apparently the Cro-Magnon won. He describes the rise of civilizations, the first thought to be in Sumer (Mesopotamia - now Iraq) and Egypt, as an experiment where the progress of man, in numerous instances, became a trap that they could not or would not escape from. He cites overgrazing, deforestation, weapons technology and the ruling elite's propensity for maintaining their status quo even during darkening times. Does this sound all too familiar? This so called Progress Trap has been a slippery slope that has plagued us since the Stone Age. All cultures, past and present are dynamic, and while our civilization's particulars differ from those of the past, they are not as different as we like to think.

Wright goes on to detail how four ancient societies - Sumer, Rome, the Maya, Easter Island - which, in roughly a thousand years each, wore out their welcome from nature and collapsed.
He also mentions two exceptions, Egypt and China, who achieved runs of 3,000 years or more for atypical reasons:
  • an abundance of resources, particularly topsoil, with alluvial deposits from annual Nile River flooding and wind-blown glacial loess that was exceedingly deep, respectively
  • farming methods that worked with, rather than against, natural cycles
  • settlement patterns that did not exceed, or permanently damage, the carrying capacity of the local environment
In his comparisons to our present civilization, Wright, brings up some sobering points:
  • each time history repeats itself the price goes up
  • the world still has differing cultures and political systems, but at the economic level there is now only one big civilization, feeding on the whole planet's natural capitol
  • the twentyfold growth in world trade since the 1970s has meant that hardly anywhere is self-sufficient. Every Eldorado has been looted
  • quoting Joseph Tainter, who notes this interdependance and warns, that "collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global... World civilization will disintegrate as a whole."
Wright concludes:

"Things are moving so fast that inaction itself is one of the biggest mistakes. The 10,000-year experiment of the settled life will stand or fall by what we do, and don't do now. The reform that is needed is not anti-capitalist, anti-American, or even deep environmentalist; it is simply the transition from the short-term to long-term thinking. From recklessness and excess to moderation and the precautionary principle.

The great advantage we have, our best chance for avoiding the fate of past societies, is that we know about those past societies. We can see how and why they went wrong. Homo sapiens has the information to know itself for what it is: an Ice Age hunter only half evolved towards intelligence; clever but seldom wise.

We are now at the stage when the Easter Islander could still have halted the senseless cutting and carving, could have gathered the last trees' seeds to plant out of reach of the rats. We have the tools and the means to share resources, clean up pollution, dispense basic health care and birth control, set economic limits in line with natural ones. If we don't do these things now, while we prosper, we will never be able to do them when times get hard. Our fate will twist out of our hands. And this new century will not grow very old before we enter an age of chaos and collapse that will dwarf all the dark ages in our past.

Now is our last chance to get the future right."

Ronald Wright is an award winning novelist, historian and essayist. This book was part of the CBC Radio's Massey Lecture Series in 2004.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The moon and the tide

Catching a glimpse of the full moon sparkling over the water last night got me to thinking about how connected the ocean and the heavens are. At this time of year a full moon is considered to be a Harvest Moon and as such has long had a special significance to farmers and folks who depend on the land. It also has a special significance for fishermen.

When I was a salmon troller, both the full and new moon phases were important times of the month because that's when I could count on salmon to bite the best. It was a convergence of consequences that worked in my favour and against the salmon. First of all, salmon always seem to bite best first thing in the morning. The rising sun and increasing light of the new day always gets them going. Dawn is the prime time of day when an angler wants to have his or her gear in the water. Also, when the tide changes four times a day the slackening and shifting currents have a powerful effect on all marine species, salmon included. Forage fish-known as feed or bait-seek refuge from the strong currents by hiding behind ridges and boulders on the bottom. I think they are saving energy that way. When the currents slacken you can see the bait rising up in clouds from their hiding places on a depth sounder. This will usually cause salmon to go into a feeding frenzy and increases the opportunities for a fisherman trolling through the balls of bait. Salmon also seem to bite better on a rising tide. And then, it seems to me at least, the harder the tide runs, the harder the fish bite. One thing for sure is all salmon seem to do something other than eat between about 2 in the afternoon and just before supper is served aboard. It doesn't matter if supper is at four in the afternoon or seven in the evening, as soon as you sit down to enjoy it you are guarranteed to get a fish on the line.

Early on in my fishing career I learned from the oldtimers, "When the moon comes up, the tide comes up and when the moon goes down, the tide goes down." This means you can always tell what the tide is doing if you can see the moon. As the moon rises in the east, it pulls the tide up with it. The tide is highest when the moon is highest. And as the moon starts on a downward trajectory and sets in the west, the tide goes out.

When the moon is full it is aligned opposite the sun and always sets early in the morning and rises in the evening. The new moon is aligned so it rises at the same time the sun does. Twice a month these two celestial orbs conspire during these two phases to create a strong gravitational pull on the ocean that leads to the "spring" or highest high and lowest low tides. The strongest tidal currents are generated during the "spring" tides. And all these factors favour the fisherman, not the fish.

So on a full or new moon, low water slack is first thing in the morning just as the sun is coming up. These "spring" tides flood or rise all morning creating the strongest currents during the time of day when salmon like to bite the best. After the tide turns to ebb and starts to go out, it's after lunch when most salmon do something other than eat anyway.

I think Sir Isaac Newton was the first physicist to correlate the cycles of tides to the phases of the moon based on his theory of universal gravitation, but I'm sure folks who spent their lives on the ocean had an idea about how these were connected long before Newton out it down on paper. I'm sure the fishermen had it pegged!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Living the Ocean - An interview with Jennifer Lash

Ava, from The Reef Tank is our guest blogger this week. She interviewed Jennifer at the beginning of October and her post is reproduced with permission here. The Reef Tank is one of the largest online communities of saltwater aquarists.

Did you know it was an Australian water landmark that inspired Jennifer Lash to create Living Oceans Society, the single largest marine conservation organization in Canada? Yes, it's true. After working as a prawn trawler, the destruction Jennifer witnessed during an Australian marine science experience completely changed her life, inspiring her to work in the small British Columbian ocean community of Sointula where she now lives.

Now, as the largest marine conservation organization in Canada celebrates its 10th year, its founder and Executive Director Jennifer Lash can look back with fondness at all the great memories and all the inspirational strides the group has made for the ocean communities in that area, including the recent Finding Coral Expedition. This was a mission to document deep sea corals that are at risk, and that currently do not have any protection measures in place by the government. The results of the expedition will hopefully change this.
Now we get to see what the Living Oceans Society is all about through the eyes of its leader.

Tell me about the founding of the Living Oceans Society.
I established Living Oceans Society in 1998. I was looking for a bold organization that would advance conservation of our ocean while respecting the cultural and social needs of the people who work and live on the coast. When I could not find an organization like that, I decided to start my own.

How did you get your own personal start in marine biology?
I am not a marine biologist. I studied political science in University. My focus was on how to take the work of scientists and turn it into effective polices that would ensure the oceans are healthy. I depend on the excellent work of marine biologists and other scientists to do the critical research that illustrates what polices need to be in place.

LOS is the largest marine conservation organization in Canada. How did it get to that point?
I’m not sure. There just seemed to be so much work to do and we have always had a team of dedicated people. Through hard work and passion, we were able to raise the funds to hire the staff to take on more work.

Tell me about some of the conservation goals you hope to sustain with the Society?
Living Oceans Society would like to see healthy oceans to support healthy communities. To realize this goal we would like to see the development of conservation plans for the coast. This would include an ecosystem based management approach to planning, a network of marine protected areas, protection of deep sea corals, sustainable fisheries, sustainable salmon farming, and maintaining the moratorium on offshore oil and gas development and tanker traffic.

How did your work at The Great Barrier Reef in Australia help you to create Living Oceans Society in Canada?
When I lived in Australia I was fortunate enough to dive on the reef every day for 8 months. I felt very connected to the environment. I also worked on a commercial fishing vessel and saw the destruction from the fishing gear. I met many people who depended on the fishing to sustain their livelihoods. I drew on this experience when I started Living Oceans Society and it helped form our commitment to developing health oceans to support healthy communities.

What are some ways for a person be a marine conservationist without joining any group or organization?
People should eat only sustainable seafood. They can learn more about what they can eat by visiting the Seachoice site. Reducing energy consumption helps address climate change issues that are harming our oceans. Finally, make sure that you do not pour anything down your drain that you wouldn’t pour in your garden as all toxic chemicals end up in the ocean where our seafood live.

What did the organization do to celebrate it’s 10th anniversary?
We had 2 great parties. One was a cocktail party in Vancouver where we served sustainable seafood and had a silent auction. In Sointula we held the Under the Sea masquerade party. Everyone dressed in costumes and danced the night away. It was a great way to celebrate 10 years of hard work.

How did you come to lead the Finding Coral Expedition and what was its goal?
We designed and launched the Finding Coral Expedition because government was moving so slowly to protect deep sea corals and the corals are at risk. Our goal was to documents deep sea corals and gather data about the species in BC, like where they are located, and what other marine creatures depend on them for habitat.

Sum up the adventure with a story or two.

There are 2 highlights from the trip that I can think of. The first was when we came across the Primnoa coral forests in Dixon Entrance. I was piloting the sub across the flat mud bottom when suddenly there were boulders and a rock wall in front of me. Nestled on one of the rocks was a small piece of Primnoa. I was excited and then I looked along the wall and saw coral after coral, after coral. It was a moment I will never forget.

When we were diving in the Moresby Gully we went as deep at 1700 feet. This was my deepest dive and I remember sitting there thinking “Wow, no one will ever be sitting in this location looking at this marine life ever again.” That was when I knew I was one of the luckiest people alive.

What are some of the goals of the Living Oceans Society moving forward?
We need to complete the projects we are currently working on and we need to challenge the issue of climate change. The increase in CO2 in the atmosphere is resulting in increased CO2 in the ocean. This, in turn, is creating carbonic acid in the oceans. The carbonic acid is affecting the shells of phytoplankton and zoo plankton as well as crabs and shellfish in the larval stage. If this trend continue, the ocean as we know it will cease to exist. We must decrease our carbon emissions and we will do what we can to make this happen.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Name This Spot!

Right on the heels of congratulating our most recent winner in my last post, I think we should have everyone try and figure out the location of this next image.
This is a spot within the Pncima region and any mariners with local knowledge of the Inside Passage would know this spot.

If you would like to try your best guess, you can email me at: or leave a comment in the comments section.
Winners will be announced on the next Name This Spot! post.

Good luck and thanks for checking out Coastal Voices.

Carbon dioxide: what it is, what it's doing, and what we can do about it - a Coastal Voices series

Coastal Voices series
Carbon dioxide: what it is, what it’s doing, and what we can do about it

This December, representatives from over 190 nations will gather in Copenhagen, Denmark, to hash out an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide. The timing is critical: scientists believe that the next decade will be our last, best chance to reduce emissions if we are to keep the climate from warming beyond an unacceptable level.

In addition to changing our climate, our carbon dioxide emissions are also making ocean water more acidic, and more corrosive to many marine animals with shells – an occurrence that is happening right now on the west coast, and which threatens the base of marine food webs.

Carbon dioxide is at the root of both climate change and ocean acidification – yet it is also a very common thing, so common that we exhale with every breath. Carbon dioxide is, in fact, essential to life. How can this be? How can it be both essential to life and threatening to life at the same time? And how can plain old carbon dioxide – an odorless, colorless gas that is all around us – be the cause of melting shellfish, spreading deserts, or threats to the national security of the most powerful nations on Earth?

We’ll dig into these questions, and more, over the next month in a five-part series on carbon dioxide, climate change, and ocean acidification, and what these issues mean for our region and for you. We’ll start at the most basic level – what is carbon dioxide and why is it an issue? – and work our way up to today’s most pressing concerns. Look for the first post early next week.

Part I: Carbon dioxide: the basics

· Why do people say that something that is essential to life is so dangerous for our future?

· Where does all of the extra carbon dioxide come from?

Part II: Carbon dioxide and climate change

· Why does more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lead to climate change?

· What does this mean for B.C. and Canada?

Part III: Carbon dioxide and ocean acidification

· How does more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere make ocean water corrosive to marine life?

· What does this mean for B.C. and Canada?

Part IV: What can we do?

· Why don’t we just remove it from the atmosphere?

· Wait - you mean I can’t really “offset” my carbon emissions?

· Won’t the problem be solved if we all become ‘carbon neutral’?

· So what can we truly do?

Part V: What is being done by Canada and the international community to reduce emissions of
carbon dioxide?

· Why is “Copenhagen” so important?

· How can we make our voices heard at Copenhagen?

Name This Spot! 4

Hey folks; we have another winner in our Name This Spot! contest!

Our most recent winner is Charlotte, who correctly identified the Wannock River in the October 13 - Name This Spot! 3 posting.
Ok, time for some disclosure here. I've known Charlotte since she was about 4 years old and I know she lives about 2o some odd miles from the Wannock River - so she should recognize the place!
Your prize will be arriving in a post office near you soon, Charlotte!

For those of you who don't know, the 6 km long Wannock River flows out of Owikeno Lake into the head of Rivers Inlet in the Central Coast, within the Pncima region.

The area has been and still is home to the Wuikinuxv Nation. There are approximately 70 Wuikinuxv people living in their village along the banks of the Wannock. This river and Owikeno Lake have provided food, refuge and home for the Wuikinuxv for thousands of years. The Wannock River and it's keystone salmon species are still relatively rich in biodiversity despite over a century of industrial activity in the area. In recent years, in order to enhance declining salmon stocks, the Wuikinuxv Fisheries Program along with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Rivers Inlet North Coast Salmon Enhancement Association have been been working with Snootli Hatchery in Bella Coola to enhance chinook and, on a smaller scale, sockeye from the Wannock River. There is also an ongoing eco-system study funded in part by the Tula Foundation whereby a research team headed by Dr. Rick Routledge of Simon Fraser University along with with local participation is undertaking research to better understand the early life stages of Rivers Inlet sockeye as they migrate out of their freshwater environment into the ocean.

Some of the west coast's largest chinook salmon, prized by sportfishers from around the world, spawn in the Wannock as well as sockeye, coho and chum.
All of the Owikeno Lake sockeye and other species of salmon have to transit the Wannock in order to get to their natal streams as far as 50 km up the lake.

Thank you, Charlotte and all the others who read Coastal Voices.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Environmental Disaster? or...Welcome Habitat for Endangered Species

This is an article published in The Onion in 2002. This is typical of the satiric articles written at the Onion. Consider this our Halloween Howl posting. Happy reading!

Sunken Oil Tanker Will Be Habitat For Marine Life, Shell Executives Say With Straight Face

October 23, 2002 | Issue 38•39

HOUSTON, TX—The 1,080-foot, 300,000-ton oil tanker Shell Global Explorer, which sank off the coast of Newfoundland last month, will provide a welcome habitat for many diverse species of endangered marine life, Shell Oil Company executives announced with a straight face Tuesday.

The new habitat, moments before sinking.

"In its new resting place, far beneath the surface of the North Atlantic, the Global Explorer is host to countless fish and an infinite variety of marine vegetation," a press release from Shell read without a trace of irony. "A ship that once helped run life above the waves now houses life beneath them."

The reading of the press release preceded public statements from Shell executives.

"We in the petroleum industry have long believed that we have a responsibility to protect and conserve the environment in our daily business operations," said Shell CEO Steven L. Miller to reporters in the face of all available evidence. "We view this commitment to projects that will conserve and protect the marine ecosystem as an important investment in our future."

"At Shell, we're proud to provide a niche for the struggling denizens of our oceans," said Shell vice-president of international shipping Dennis Gallsworthy, who apparently intended his words to be taken seriously.

Somehow maintaining his composure despite being able to hear the things he was saying, Gallsworthy added, "We have a strong commitment to protecting and preserving sea life."

On Sept. 27, radio messages from the tanker indicated it had suffered extensive damage to its hull following an explosion, which pierced its overloaded crude-oil tanks. By the time the ship slid to the bottom, Shell public-relations officials were touting its potential as an artificial habitat, often while looking straight into reporters' eyes.

"The many species of fish native to Newfoundland's Grand Banks have in recent years increasingly struggled to find feeding and breeding grounds," Miller said, as if Shell were deeply concerned with these circumstances and not, in fact, partially at fault for them. "We must take all available steps to help reestablish these species in their native waters."

Hoping to both deflect blame and take an opportunity for self-promotion, Miller took aim at the commercial fishing industry without so much as a smirk.

"The Global Explorer's new resting place will provide shelter for countless threatened, often over-harvested fish," he said. "At Shell, we're proud to use our multibillion-dollar, globe-spanning resources to aid a worthy environmental cause."

To see the rest of the article, click here.


Yes, it's a good chuckle. But what isn't so funny is that on our coast, shipments of crude oil have been increasing. Last year, thirty-four crude oil tankers were loaded through Westridge Marine Terminal in Burrard Inlet. And I would hazard that it is more a question of when there will be an accident, rather than if.

If you consider the number of near misses there have been in the last ten years, we've been incredibly lucky. And if proposed pipeline expansions go ahead, it may be that our luck will run out.

To find out more about the proposed BC pipeline expansion project, visit our website at

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Indisputable evidence

My work at Living Oceans puts me in touch with local folks trying to correct the problems with open net-pen salmon farming. Last week was a case in point when I got a phone call early Friday morning from a friend who was gillnetting for chums off the North Shore of Malcolm Island. He called to say he had a bunch of Atlantic salmon in his net and wanted to know if there had been an escape at a fish farm recently.
One of the problems with open net-pen salmon farms are the inevitable escapes that happen. Whether the cause is from accidents handling fish farm boats and equipment, pens breaking loose or sinking in bad weather or predators ripping through to get a free meal, the result is always the same; farmed salmon - Atlantics in this case - being introduced into the marine environment.
So why is that a problem? Aren't those Atlantics just more catch for my fisherman friend? Aside from the risks associated with an alien species escaping into the Pacific Ocean, farmed salmon can and do consume wild aquatic resources, thereby depleting local stocks. Salmon farming industry advocates want people to believe otherwise by saying farmed salmon will only eat pellets and so when they escape, they won't survive in the wild.
After dissecting some of the escaped Atlantics that my friend brought in after fishing closed I can dispel any doubt that farmed salmon will consume wild aquatic resources. The picture is indisputable evidence. This also means that since farmed salmon are capable of eating food other than fish pellets, they are capable of surviving in the wild.

Transitioning open net-pen salmon farms into closed containment would eliminate or greatly reduce the problem of escapes along with a number of others. Those include;
  • solid wastes from the farms entering the ocean and contaminating the marine environment under the pens
  • Marine mammals drowning in predator nets
  • Disease and parasite ( like sea lice) transfer between wild and farmed salmon
  • The need for anti-biotic and chemical treatment of farmed salmon

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Climate Change Action - Saturday October 24

The most important number for this fall is 350.

Why “350”? Well, you’ve probably heard a lot about climate change, and often it can seem overwhelming. But now, the world has a goal: 350. Why? Because this is the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2, in parts per million) that scientists are identifying as a safe target. It used to be 280, back before the Industrial Revolution. Today, we’re at about 390. Scientists are beginning to agree: if we can keep CO2 under the 350 mark, climate change may be more manageable. So, we need to bring it down, which means that we need to cut back on CO2 emissions.

On October 24, thousands of people across the world will take part in the International Day of Climate Action to bring attention to the critical issue of climate change, and to show how we can address it. Here in Sointula, we are doing our part by leaving our cars and trucks at home on that day and teaching our neighbors about the issues and the importance of 350. Learn more about the issues and how to take part in the Day of Action at

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How ya doing, chum?

Warmish temperatures during the day, cool ones at night, and my pumpkins are actually turning orange, which is a rarity in Sointula! With fall in full swing, and looking towards winter, I thought I would make my first blog posting since returning from maternity leave about something that also points to this time of year on the coast….the chum salmon run.

Some of you may be rolling your eyes. Why talk about the dog salmon (named because of their large teeth at spawning time), when there are cataclysmic events happening on the Fraser with the sockeye this year? Even the Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) website says our poor chum is “the least sought-after of the Pacific salmon species”. Well, I have to ask, least sought after by whom? By the commercial and recreation fishing sectors? By the consumer?

Chum salmon are the last of the species of Pacific salmon to return to our rivers to spawn. In the ocean, they can often be confused with sockeye because of their silver bright colour, but as they approach their natal streams, they differentiate themselves by their distinctive vertical streaks. They are historically extremely abundant and spawn in more than 880 streams and rivers along the BC coast. In my neck of the woods, chum are just now returning to the Nimpkish, Kokish, Cluxewe and Quatse Rivers.

Last month, the Globe and Mail reported that bears on the Central Coast are starving because of the lack of chum salmon. Last year this was happening in Knight Inlet because of the lack of pink salmon. Poor cousin or not, every species of salmon has a place in the ecological web on this coast. And every species of salmon is under threat, whether by infestation of sea lice, warming ocean temperatures, or just plain mismanagement.

Stock outlooks posted by DFO for the 2009 chum runs for Johnstone Strait and Mainland inlets are either low or near target. What floors me is that the difference between the definitions of what is “low” and what is “near target” is substantial. An area that is getting a near target assessment is defined as “stock is (or is forecast to be) within 25% of target and stable or increasing”. An area that is getting a low assessment is defined as “stock is (or is forecast to be) well below target or below target and declining”. It’s like the point at which the pendulum will swing from one side to the other. Is it increasing or decreasing? Are we going to focus less on “managing” a stock if its near target?

And what are the consequences if we are mistaken?

* In researching this blog posting, I looked up the predicted returns on chum this year. All well and good until I want to see it in a bit more detail by stream. I have to admit I am mystified at how anyone can even find this information, let alone interpret it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Part 6: Interviews from Sointula - LEK from BC's Central Coast

Part 6 of a 6 part series by Kirie McMurchy

Working on the water for so long, people get the chance to see things that those of us lowly land-dwellers could never even imagine. During my time conducting Local Knowledge interviews for the Living Oceans Society, I felt honored that people were willing to share their stories with me as well as the general public. This is an excerpt from my interview with Jon Taylor, a fisherman, woodcarver, and avid story teller living in Sointula.

Excerpt from interview with Jon Taylor, (contributed with permission).

"You see things out on the water only if you spend time, and only if you know what is and isn’t there. I take people out whale watching and they don’t see the whales until they’re right there. You learn to see. The significance of the way the birds are acting, the way the water ripples. There are various people who swear they can smell a salmon run. That’s how they did their fishing. I certainly smelled the smell. Over the course of many years I’ve seen many things, I’ve also seen a lot of empty water. There’s the feeling that you’re always about the see something."

"Exhaustion, alcohol, fog, and no radar. Great stories. There was a lot of that, and then there was a lot of genuine, unexplained things. All of us have seen stuff that shouldn’t be there. Between fog and alcohol and extreme fatigue, that’s one thing, but sometimes it’s [different]. There are four of us that I know of that have seen this very large animal that was officially extinct in 1780 or something, it’s called the Stellar Sea Cow. You find it in the book, it’s all documented."

"Before I’d heard any of the stories I met one face to face down in Blackfish Sound. I started asking around quietly. I saw it on the way down to the fish camp and I had just headed out and I ran into this thing. Thought 'that’s the damndest dead head I’ve ever seen in my life.' It’s all covered with shaggy cedar bark. Put the binoculars on it and it’s got a face and it’s staring at me. It’s got these tiny little arms that I thought were just branches. And I realize it’s watching me. I arrived in Double Bay maybe twenty minutes later and the guys said 'What is wrong with you?' and I said 'I’ve just seen a fully furred whale and it was spy hopping and it was staring at me.' 'Oh you’ve been doing dope or something.' Well I don’t do dope. You try and report something like that to the authorities and the first thing that happens is somebody says 'Oh, what you really saw was…” And you’re just going 'I’ve been at sea since I was four. [I know this was different]'"

"[Outlandish] stories thirty years ago were very, very common here. Guys with small boats go out, be alone for days, nobody else is around, they’d see things, hear things, think things. Some of them I have no doubt are real, some of them I have no doubt were the DTs from alcohol. When you get further and further from home you see things differently sometimes. This is right in home waters where we’ve all seen the Stellar Sea Cow. I’ve seen it with my own eyes and it was not a whale, it was not a dead head. I drew a sketch of it and didn’t hear the word ‘Stellar Sea Cow’ for years and went and looked them up, and that’s it. It has the face like a dog or a pig and it has these two tiny little useless arms that look almost like bent twigs. An absolutely peaceful kelp grazer. They were a great food source if you had ship loads of men there. It’s not in any form mythic. They have the hide, they have the skin. Stellar was a great botanist who explored this area. Stellar jays, stellar sea lions, all named and documented by him. This is the late seventeen early eighteen hundreds. We still to this day have pieces of skin in the museums."

Kirie McMurchy is a Guest contributor to coastal voices blog. If you have Local Knowledge about the ocean or about living on the Central Coast of British Columbia - we want to hear from you! Contact us at

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fraser River Sockeye Statement

Living Oceans Society is deeply troubled by the collapse of the 2009 Fraser River sockeye run, and the implications of this collapse for affected First Nations, commercial and recreational fishermen, and marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems. The famed Fraser River sockeye are an icon of the cultural, environmental, and social health of B.C.

The collapse of the Fraser River sockeye sends a sad but important message: the marine ecosystem is complex, and it is difficult to know how dramatically all of our human impacts will affect the species that depend upon healthy oceans. However, this collapse makes it dramatically clear that the result of what we do is directly linked to the health of our communities. It is equally difficult to isolate which specific source of disturbance has most negatively impacted the Fraser River sockeye. Throughout their lives, salmon depend upon a variety of habitats–freshwater, estuaries and nearshore waters, and open oceans. In each of these environments they are faced with many natural and human-sourced obstacles to their survival. At Living Oceans Society, we are working to maintain, ensure and even restore the health of our oceans in several ways.

Sea Lice and Wild Salmon
Living Oceans Society is concerned with the impacts that dozens of salmon farms in the Wild Salmon Narrows of northern Georgia Strait have on wild salmon. When Fraser River sockeye smolts travel from fresh water to the ocean, they swim through the Wild Salmon Narrows past dozens of open net pen salmon farms that frequently contain high levels of sea lice. Lice infestations have been shown to be fatal to wild salmon smolts and lice are now known to be a disease vector, capable of carrying disease from farmed to wild fish. We have been advocating for a move to closed containment salmon farms that prevent the spread of parasites and disease to wild salmon. Until we transition to closed containment, LOS and other members of the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform are calling for an emergency closure of five active salmon farms in the Wild Salmon Narrows.

Climate Change and Wild Salmon
Living Oceans Society has been researching the impacts of climate change on the oceans. Some salmon researchers suspect that the Fraser River sockeye collapse may be attributable in some degree to changes in the ocean food web due to both temperature increases and alterations in the chemical composition of our oceans due to climate change. This is another reminder that we need to continue to tackle the causes of climate change, understand its impacts and how to mitigate them, and be precautionary in our management of living resources.

Food Webs and Wild Salmon
Some people are suggesting that changes to the sockeye’s marine food web may have played a role in their collapse. This shows why it is important for us to understand our impacts on marine food webs: how our actions alter them and how they affect us. Understanding our impacts on marine food webs is an essential part of an ecosystem approach to fisheries.

Ocean Management
When individual aspects of human impact are managed in isolation, management measures do not account for the complex reality of how all the various effects combine to degrade an ecosystem. Living Oceans Society advocates for the integrated management of our oceans through marine planning that accounts for all our impacts, and sets aside marine protected areas that act as sanctuaries for marine species and the habitats they depend upon.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Name this Spot! 3

Well, loyal readers, it has been a month or two but, back by popular demand is our - "Name This Spot" contest.
The winner of our last one was Ralph, who correctly identified, Koeye River as the subject of an aerial photo. Ralph, your prize will be mailed to you shortly.
Koeye River flows in a westerly direction emptying into Fitzhugh Sound in the Central Coast at about 52 degrees 46.5 minutes North by 127 degrees 52.8 minutes West.
The Koeye (Kway) River Valley, one of the few remaining intact coastal river valley ecosystems, is home to all species of salmon and is prime grizzly bear and wolf habitat.
The Heiltsuk First Nation has a summer camp geared up to celebrate and experience Heiltsuk history and cultural activities for their youth.
Their Koeye Lodge also provides bear watching and bird watching opportunities for paying guests who wish to experience a unique wilderness retreat.

If you can name the spot in the photo above please send an email to:

A modest prize will be awarded to the knowledgable winner and we would love to hear any stories about the area depicted in the photo if you would care to share them.

Hint: Within the PNCIMA region - north of Cape Caution but south of Portland Canal and home to some of the largest chinook on this coast.

Stay tuned, the winner will be announced in about a week and a new spot will be posted.
Good luck!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Part 5: Interviews from Sointula - LEK from BC's Central Coast

Part 5 of a 6 Part Series - by Kirie McMurchy

During my interview project with Living Oceans Society, I heard many different hypotheses for what happened to the fish stocks and the fishing industry. I thought that this excerpt from my interview with Dan Griffith, a Sointula resident since 1974, addressed the over fishing element of the problem quite well. In his interview, Dan also addressed the mis-management issue as well as the issue of logging destroying salmon spawning streams.

Excerpt from interview with Dan Griffith, (contributed with permission).

"Fishing was a way of life that disappeared for us and we had no real way of dealing with it. And greed got in the way because everybody wanted to catch more fish."

"A few years ago I went to Nicaragua. Somebody from [the fishermen’s] union had gone there and witnessed a huge storm that washed a bunch of their boats ashore and wrecked their little fishing fleet. So they thought: 'oh gee we could do a real good thing so we’ll build a boat and send it'. "

"It took ten years but they built this boat, a beautiful big boat that we would love to have here. So they send it down there and they had all manner of fishing gear on it – it was a total combination boat. You could fish whatever you wanted with this boat. [It has a] nice, big diesel engine in it."

"Well... Most of their fishing is done there out of twenty foot skiffs with thirty-five horse-[power] outboards. They go out in the morning, they catch some fish, [they] bring them home, sell them to their neighbors, and then they take the afternoon off and then they go fishing the next day."

"[When] that boat [project] first started, we were still fishing most of the time. By the time they shipped that boat to Nicaragua, we were cut down to fishing two or three weeks a year. We get down there and we find out that they’re still fishing three-hundred and sixty-five days a year, and they can keep anything they catch. We could only keep a salmon, if we caught one, unless we put out another hundred grand and bought another license."

"And so we’re trying to send them our technology and our way of doing things that has totally failed us. It took me a couple of years after I got back to finally recognize the reality of this whole situation and what it meant. It kind of made me really stop and think.
They were trying to fill their bellies, we were trying to fill our bank accounts. You can’t do it unless you’re keeping your rivers supplying the planet with the fish, you cannot keep catching them to the point that we were. It’s the same with the logging. They cannot keep on cutting down the trees as fast as they are to feed the mills in the United States. All of our industries are disappearing. What will we become?"

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Malcolm Island's TD Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup!

Saturday, September 26th dawned clear, sunny and warm - perfect weather to get the 37 participants of our "trash teams" out onto our shoreline here in Sointula and Mitchell Bay to try and make a dent in the ever growing piles of flotsam and jetsam that seems to crowd the shores of Malcolm Island.

This was all part of the TD Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, sponsored by the Vancouver Aquarium and, under the auspices of The Ocean Conservancy, part of an international effort to clear debris from shorelines around the world.

For the Malcolm Island event we had help and sponsorship from Living Oceans Society, The Malcolm Island Lions Club, Sointula Recreation Association and the Regional District of Mount Waddington.

Our hard working volunteers (and their pickup trucks) managed to get an estimated 1875 kilograms of junk off the beaches. Over 80 % went to the 7 Mile Recycling depot/landfill while the rest was directed to the Malcolm Island landfill. Any scrap metal, tires, batteries, recyclable plastics and returnables were sorted from the general trash and destined to be recycled.

In Mitchell Bay/Donegal Head area at the south end of Malcolm Island, 12 volunteers collected a huge pickup truck of trash.
This was the first time that Mitchell Bay had been cleaned up during a TDGCSC event although there is a lot of people all over the island who take it upon themselves to clean up the beaches throughout the year.

A huge thanks to everybody who participated this year.
When the final all Canadian cleanup statiistics come in sometime in October I will post the data on Coastal Voices.

Here are a few photos taken on Saturday.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Part 4: Interviews from Sointula - LEK from BC's Central Coast

Part 4 of a 6 Part Series - by Kirie McMurchy

During my interview project with Living Oceans Society, every single person I interviewed mentioned the Mifflin Plan. The Mifflin Plan is the colloquial name for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Pacific Salmon Revitalization Strategy that came into effect under then-minister, Fred Mifflin. The Mifflin Plan was a reaction to a decrease in fish stocks in the 1980’s and it attempted to conserve the stocks by reducing the size of the fishing fleet. The plan went about this in two ways: buying back fishing licenses to reduce the number of boats able to fish and sectioning up the coast into zones so one fishing license no longer allowed one to fish the whole coast. It has been said that in one year alone, the west coast lost more than 8,000 jobs from the salmon industry. In a community whose lifeblood was the salmon fishing industry, it is understandable why this was such a huge blow.
The following is an excerpt from an interview I conducted with Living Oceans own, Will Soltau about his recollections of the Sointula-hatched action against the Mifflin Plan in the mid ‘90’s.

Excerpt of Interview with Will Slotau (contributed with permission)

"It was April of ’96 [that] we decided that we had to do something. There was a bunch of us from [Sointula] that went up to [the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) office in] Port Hardy. The secretary came up, these two guys just jumped up on the counter, went inside, one of them opened the door and we all rushed into the main office and we said “We’re not leaving until we hear from the minister that he’s not going to implement the Mifflin Plan!” and they said “Okay, good luck.” DFO got on the phone to find out what they should do." "So we made promises [that we would not be violent or destructive] and DFO left that night from work and they brought in a couple of commissionaires to sort of babysit us all night. The rotation of our people that were in the office changed on a daily basis. After about a week DFO didn’t like this free flow of people in and out of the office, and they didn’t want to drag us out and create a scene like that so what they decided they’d do was they would lock the doors and the people that were in there that day could leave at any time but they would not be allowed back in. There were eight of us, I believe, and we spent another eighteen days in there. It got pretty tense after a while. We were sleeping on the floor people would bring us food and they were still marching outside, they had placards by that time. " "Because of us, the DFO office in Tofino, Nanaimo, and finally in Vancouver got occupied but we were the first ones that actually took action like that. They might have even occupied the Prince Rupert office, I can’t remember. There were people that came from Port Hardy and Port McNeil once we occupied the office but the plan was hatched by a bunch of Sointulians." "Glen Clark was premier of BC at the time and he was all for supporting the fishermen, he had gotten the union behind him and there was a big press conference down in Vancouver one day and there was a bunch of people that had come to the office to protest. It was getting pretty noisy outside and I kind of felt like things were coming to a head with this whole press conference and the way people were feeling. Those of us that had been inside had had enough after eighteen days. So I let a bunch of people that were outside in and some of the people that were inside went out and from there it just kind of dissolved. Everybody was cleared out that evening, the cops showed up but they just kind of escorted people outside and then DFO locked the doors and that was the end of that. Nothing really came of it, DFO didn’t change one bit. "

Kirie McMurchy is a Guest contributor to coastal voices blog. If you have Local Knowledge about the ocean or about living on the Central Coast of British Columbia - we want to hear from you! Contact us at