Friday, August 28, 2009

Part I: Interviews from Sointula - Local Knowledge from BC's Central Coast

Part 1 of a 6 part series

Let me introduce myself. My name is Kirie McMurchy. I grew up on the island community of Sointula and have recently moved away to attend Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario to receive my bachelor’s degree in global development studies. I was fortunate enough to be awarded this amazing opportunity to work with Living Oceans Society for the summer. My main project has been to interview people in Sointula who have been involved with the fishing industry and prepare the collection to potentially be printed one day as a book. I have learned a tremendous amount about the history of my community and the fishing lifestyle. I didn’t think that either the Sointula community or the ocean could be any closer to my heart, but this project has drawn them in further and helped me to understand and appreciate both in a whole new light. For that, I am ever grateful.

The following is an excerpt from my interview with Denise Aleksich who comes from a family with a long history of living in Sointula. One thing I noticed while interviewing Denise was that she seemed to have really, truly enjoyed the fisherman’s lifestyle and appreciated that her family had been able to sustain themselves that way for generations. For one who doesn’t know what living in a coastal community is like, I thought her words might help shed some light on why Living Oceans Society is dedicated to healthy oceans for healthy communities. I’m so grateful towards everyone who let me interview them and allowed me to share their precious insights on a fascinating lifestyle that has, unfortunately, disappeared for so many people.

Excerpt of Interview with Denise Aleksich (contributed with permission)

"I started seining with my dad when I was thirteen. There weren’t a lot of young girls [out seining]. It was a very interesting environment to be in. I loved being out on the boat, I loved the fishing part, and I loved the traveling. My dad was a traveler. We traveled to every part of this coast. It was very exciting and it was a marvelous lifestyle. I never really thought about [being in rough weather], but after years as you start getting worn down. I used to sit up on the bridge when we’d cross [Queen Charlotte] Sound from here up to Namu or Bella Bella and if there was a really good swell I’d let the water wash over me: I was a nut bar! But I was so excited by it. I loved being out, I loved everything about it, everything excited me: the phosphorescence in the water, any kind of wild life we saw, absolutely everything. I was always animated when I was on the water, nothing ever got me down even all the snarls and the snags and the messes we got into. My dad, he hit so many rocks – they used to call him rocky or something, Crash Peterson, that’s it – he was an adventurer. It wasn’t until after I had kids that that feeling just dissipated. It’s now when I think about being on a boat, I think of work. I think of bracing myself all the time, I think of how much organization it takes to be out in a little boat in bad weather and all those things. You’re so full of every little detail when you’re on a boat. If you’re in a house it’s “oh yeah, I have to do this and this and this” but there’s no time constraints, the dishes will sit there ‘till the morning. It’s not like that on a boat."

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, August 26, 2009

Good news for marine habitat in the States

The last few days have seen a flurry of oceans-related activity in the States. Last week, the U.S. government approved an Arctic fisheries management plan that places a moratorium on commercial fishing in the U.S.' waters in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.. The plan was recommended in a unanimous vote by the U.S. North Pacific Fishery Management Council after several years of research and consultation. This was done in the spirit of precaution, as very little is currently known about Arctic marine ecosystems - too little to allow a sudden influx of industrial-scale commercial fishing as the Arctic sea ice recedes. Now, there are reports that Canada is considering similar actions - although they apparently aren't too happy about the borders that the Americans claimed in their moratorium.

On the east coast, the environmental group Oceana reports that four deepwater canyons located in the U.S.' Atlantic waters will be closed to bottom trawling and dredging starting November 1, 2009. This is being done in order to protect deep sea corals, sponges, and other critical habitat features from the impacts of these fishing gears - which are known to be among the most damaging gears used in Canada, as well. Of course, here on Canada's Pacific coast we have areas that are closed to protect the famous glass sponge reefs, but no protections for our own deep sea corals - which is why Living Oceans decided to take the lead by conducting the Finding Coral Expedition this summer. But I digress....

Now, for full dislcosure I am an American (an Ohioan, specifically, which is not the same thing as an Iowan or an Idahoan, no matter how similar they sound). I've been in Canada for about 3 years now, and one thing that I've noticed is that even the nicest Canadians tend to assume that the States lag behind Canada in environmental protection. However, this often doesn't seem to be the case - for example, the States have had an Endangered Species Act since 1973, whereas Canada just enacted the Species at Risk Act in 2002. Another example: here on the west coast, Canada lags far behind the U.S. in protecting habitat from bottom trawling. With the latest fisheries management decisions, the States continue to demonstrate what seems to be a growing commitment to protecting habitat and managing in a precautionary manner. Meanwhile, we're still waitin' on that coral protection up here in B.C...

So, my questions to you are: do you think Canada tends to be stronger or weaker than the U.S. when it comes to overall environmental protection, and why?

Monday, August 24, 2009

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

A subject that comes up at least as often as the increase in fuel prices is the moratorium on offshore oil drilling on the B.C. coast, especially when I am in conversation with folks like myself who have spent most of their lives, "messing about in boats." While I am in favour of new economic opportunities for our coastal communities I'm just not able to accept the risk to our marine ecology that some of the current energy project proposals will bring to us.

So I ask myself that loaded question; "What could possibly go wrong?"
Well here are a few examples that wound up on my desktop this morning
Oil and Gas Spew from Drilling Rigs in Timor Sea

It will take at least seven weeks to clean up an ongoing oil and gas spill from a drilling rig off Australia's northwest coast according to company and government sources.

Malacca Straits Tanker On Fire
Fire fighters are battling a fire on board an oil tanker which collided with a bulk carrier in the Malacca Straits.

If you want to see what else has gone wrong in some of the most technologically advanced countries in the world you can check out some oil and gas related disasters here.

Here is an example a little closer to home: August 1, 2000 - Canada - Residents of the town of Chetwynd were told to conserve water, as officials surveyed the damage from a massive oil spill into a pristine river in northern British Columbia. Chetwynd stopped pumping water from the Pine River as the first traces of the estimated 264,600 gallons (one million litres) of crude oil spilled in a pipeline break on Tuesday reached the community of about 3000 people. The heavy oil had also begun killing some of the river's fish, which are a key food supply for eagles and other wildlife in the region.

So when I read about a proposed 1170 km long twin pipeline to transport petroleum from the Alberta tar sands area to a yet to be built marine terminal in Kitimat, designed using today's most modern technology and the highest safety and environmental standards I feel compelled to ask that question again. What could possibly go wrong?

Empty ocean by 2048? Maybe not...

Even if you do not pay close attention to oceans issues, chances are good that you’ve heard some variation on the ‘scientists predict the collapse of global fisheries by 2048’ story. This theme has its roots in an article written back in 2006 for the prestigious academic journal, Science. In this article, fourteen scientists – led by Dr. Boris Worm of Dalhousie University in Halifax – presented evidence of a global trend towards widespread biodiversity loss and the resulting loss of marine ecosystem services (such as fisheries). In one sentence, towards the end of the paper, the authors identify 2048 as being the date (extraploated from trends that they identify in the paper) at which global fisheries may be collapsed.

It was only one little sentence, and it wasn't really even the main point of the paper. However, the impact of that little sentence was incredible. In fact, there's a good chance that this lone sentence has had more impact on public dialogue than any other single sentence written in any academic article over the past 10 years: the specter of seafood “disappearing” in 40 years brought fisheries and oceans issues to the forefront of the public’s consciousness, inspired at least one documentary, and lent credence to efforts to stop overfishing. However, at the same time that the popular media were picking up the ‘2048’ ball and running with it, the conclusion – and the science behind it- were being assailed by some scientists.

The unofficial leader of the scientific resistance to the paper was Dr. Ray Hilborn, a prominent fisheries scientist at the University of Washington. He had previously written a paper, “Faith-based Fisheries”, which accused Science of blindly accepting articles that reflected negatively on commercial fisheries. Now, Dr. Hilborn used fightin’ words when questioning the "2048" paper – and the authors. Finally, Drs. Hilborn and Worm met to hash out their differences – not in a back alley with bare fists, but in the substantially more refined environment of a joint interview on National Public Radio (they are respected scientists, after all).

To hear the popular press tell it, what followed seems like the academia version of a standard romantic comedy plot: during the interview, the two scientists came to realize that they had more in common than they had realized. They soon agreed to collaborate on a research project, which grew to include 19 other scientists. The result of this project is a paper published in the July 31 edition of Science. For this project, Worm, Hilborn, and the rest of the authors evaluated ten large ecosystems for trends in both fish stocks and ecosystem health. They report that while the majority of stocks that they surveyed still need to be rebuilt, there is evidence to suggest that such rebuilding is possible through the use of four key management practices:

  • Catch shares;
  • Selective fishing practices including gear modifications;
  • Fisheries removals that are managed to stay under (rather than achieve) Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY), and,
  • Establishment of areas closed to some or all kinds of fishing.

So, this paper spells out the basic management measures required for ecologically sustainable fisheries. The question, then, is how to use these four management measures in a way that is sustainable for small-scale fishermen and coastal communities. What do you think? Are there ways that some or all of those four management measures can be used in a way that encourages healthy and sustainable coastal fishing communities? What are your ideas?

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Tomorrow I will be packing up my belongings and heading down to Lawrence to begin a Masters/PhD program at the University of Kansas.
It has been such a joy to return home, learn about the oceans, and share what I have learned with you. I'll continue to follow the Coastal Voices blog as Lara, Vern, Kim, and others continue to discuss marine conservation issues.
I also plan to begin a blog that will relate to my studies in Kansas and Congo once I have gotten settled in south of the border.
Please watch my blogger profile for a new blog addition in the future, and I'll see you on the North Island the next time I'm home!
(Photo: One of my favorites from NOAA)

Seismic tests near whale habitat must be stopped: eco-groups.

Seismic Tests Threaten Marine Protected Area and Whales

August 13, 2009

VANCOUVER – Environmental groups have filed a lawsuit to stop seismic blasting by an American research vessel that threatens endangered whales in a Canadian marine protected area.

U.S. researchers have asked Canada to grant a controversial seismic vessel access to the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents, a marine protected area off British Columbia’s coast and a habitat of blue whales, fin whales, and other marine life. On behalf of Living Oceans Society and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Ecojustice has filed a lawsuit alleging that Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs cannot grant clearance to a foreign vessel that is expected to harass marine mammals in violation of Canadian law.

“To ensure compliance with environmental laws, Canada should deny clearance to this vessel and refuse to sanction the harassment of endangered whales” say Lara Tessaro, Ecojustice lawyer.

The R.V. Marcus Langseth would cause intense acoustic disturbance from a 36 air gun seismic array, which would blast at 180 decibels every 2 or 3 minutes. The seismic blasts would gather information about the structure of the local sub-seafloor and are slated to continue for one month, beginning as early as August 14th. The Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents were designated as Canada's first Marine Protected Area in 2003 to protect deep ocean hydrothermal vents and unique species that live there.

“If marine animals can’t find safety in the few areas set aside for them, where will they find it?” says CPAWS National Oceans Manager Sabine Jessen, “They have little chance of survival in the long-term without these refuges from human disturbance.”

“Seismic testing is known to cause hearing loss and behavioural disturbances in whales,” says Kim Wright of Living Oceans Society, “Any research needs to be done in a way that does not threaten marine life in the area.”

The environmental groups bringing forward the lawsuit have sought a court hearing on Friday, August 14 in Federal Court in Ottawa at 90 Sparks Street.

For more information, please visit or contact:
Kim Wright, Marine Planning and Protected Areas Program Manager,
Living Oceans Society (604) 696-5044 or cell (604) 830-8611

Sabine Jessen, National Oceans Manager, CPAWS (604) 657-2813

Lara Tessaro, Staff Lawyer, Ecojustice (514) 318-8566

Kori Brus, Communications Director, Ecojustice (416) 368-7533 ext. 25

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Nature Conservancy Photo Contest

Do you have a passion for photography? Are you able to capture the beauty of our planet and inspire others with pictures that you have taken?

Or, perhaps you're just like me, and all of your photos turn out grainy, awkward, and underwhelming. BUT by pure luck, sometimes the moon aligns with the cosmic forces of the universe and you manage to get one decent shot of our beautiful natural world. (I don't think I have a family member left who hasn't been forced to ooh and aah over my Tanzanian elephant picture...)

Regardless of if you're Rolf Hickler or, well... me, if you have managed to capture a good shot of nature, our friends over at the Nature Conservancy want to hear from you.
They are holding a photo contest this summer to help them illustrate the beauty of our planet and the need for greater conservation of our environment. They are looking for your most breathtaking images of nature, including lands, waters, plants, animals or people.

For more information, visit

Here at LOS, we're always looking for good oceans-related photos to add to our library as well. If you have good photos to donate (we will credit you appropriately), we would love to hear from you too!

Name This Spot! 2

Here is another scenic spot I have explored from time to time on my travels up and down the B.C. coast.
Just to be difficult I won't give out any clues this time. Sorry...
So if you feel you know where this special place is you can post your answer in the comments section on this blog.
You can also post any points of interest about this bit of coastal geography you might wish to share with our readers.

The winner will receive a copy of Living Oceans Society's, Fish for Thought, cookbook. If you like seafood and are interested in some information on your "catch of the day' then you will definitely want this book on your kitchen or galley shelf!
Oh, and one more thing; if you don't want to miss out on some interesting and occasionally entertaining articles you might want to subscribe to the Coastal Voices blog.

Name This Spot!

We have a winner for our very first "Name This Spot!" contest!
Our winner is Sarah who resides in Ottawa and correctly identified the photo at left as Kilbella Bay. She is the lucky recipient of our coveted Pncima "Floats My Boat" ball cap!
Thanks to all the others who sent in their answers.

Kilbella Bay which is situated on the north shore at the upper end of Rivers Inlet has two rivers, the Chuckwalla and the Kilbella flowing into a common estuary. Both river systems support a rich and diverse array of wildlife. The largest grizzly bear I've ever seen was at the confluence of the two rivers. About one hundred years ago there was a large salmon cannery operating in Kilbella Bay. Now there is just an old boiler, some pilings and a couple of derelict cabins left. The logging camp which operated there for a number of years is gone now. It has been over a decade since any commercial salmon fishing has taken place in Rivers Inlet due to diminished sockeye returns, however there is still a viable sport fishery in the area where anglers can catch some of the worlds largest chinook or the feisty coho. There has been some salmon enhancement projects to help build up the chinook stocks on the Chuckwalla and Kilbella rivers in recent years but these efforts are now concerned with the nearby Wannock River (chinook) and Johnston Creek. (coho)
About 7 km away is the First Nations Wuikinuxv Village whose people include Kilbella Bay and the two large watersheds in their traditional territory.
While Kilbella Bay is much quieter these days the salmon, steelhead, bears, wolves and eagles still thrive there. Trumpeter swans and geese still stop by on their annual migrations and the Wuikinuxv people still value the area as they have always done.
I'll post another photo of one of my favourite places on the coast shortly - stay tuned.