Thursday, January 29, 2009

Seeking options to save a way of life

For most of this week, the Daily News has been reviewing last weekends environmental conference on Haida Gwaii, where Islanders reviewed past events and looked for ways to create a more sustainable tomorrow.

Throughout the weekend different options were explored, calls for action outlined and sense of community delivered as the Ocean Forum provided much in the way of information to consider.

The third installment of the Daily News review of the Haida Gwaii sessions was published in Wednesday's paper.

Islanders grapple with the best way forward
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Page three

Guujaaw has hope.

The President of the Council of Haida Nation said he was hopeful that last weekend's Ocean Forum in Skidegate will be the continuation of thoughtful dialogue about the ocean's future in the Northern Hemisphere.

As reported in Monday's edition of the Daily News, Gaaysiigang was held last Friday and Saturday on Haida Gwaii to bring about informed solutions for ocean management.

On Saturday, the hereditary chiefs of Haida Nation signed a protocol agreement reaffirming their commitment to finding sustainable solutions for the fishing industry and marine wildlife.
Their elected chief also affirmed his commitment and provided comments on what the North Coast is facing at the moment.

"The answers are as complex as the ocean is complex," said Guujaaw.

"But the answers have to come from recognizing we are part of it.

"We are not the ones who should assume we have the right to dominate and exploit everything to extinction because we ultimately pay the price along with everything else."

Right now, on Haida Gwaii there are five marine planning processes underway for the surrounding waters, including the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA), the CHN Marine Use Planning, Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, the Sgaan Kinghlas (Bowie Seamount) Marine Protected Area and the Linking Land and Marine Use Planning in Coastal and Northshore areas.

But none are as large as 30 per cent of the regional fishing grounds, which marine-life researcher Dr Jeremy Jackson, who reported that the one-third protected area of the Great Barrier Reef was working well for the Australian-located marine wildlife.

In fact, the current protected areas only cover one per cent of all B.C.'s ocean, which compared to 12.5 per cent of land protection, appears tiny.

And the size of the available fishing stock have taken a hit since the early 90s.

According to figures in a 2002 PNCIMA report, the drop in B.C. salmon stock has been massive, with only 33,000 tonnes caught that year compared to 96,000 tonnes caught in 1990.
Who is to blame?

At this point, that seems to be the wrong question. The better question seems to be what to do next?

While there was some talk during the weekend about whose fault it is for the degradation of ocean life and the depletion of fishing stocks, there was also talk about possibilities.

Many voices called for action at the forum, if even reluctantly, to increase the size and scope of some protected sea areas, that would in effect eliminate fishing in those zones for the foreseeable future.

Jackson's proposal seemed to have made a mark with the elected leader of Haida Nation, who is optimistic that there are options to save his community's way of life, too.

Guujaaw said that the islands were still home to relatively clean water that was populated with stocks of genetically diverse species and that what was now needed was a concrete and comprehensive approach to planning how to integrate different aspects of water management.
That could be in the form of capping and reducing nutrient runoff and carbon emissions and stop the overfishing within the next 20-to-30 years.

Or it could take the form of simply bringing under control the overfishing and nutrient runoff.
While both of those choices are just two examples of how marine management might look like on the North Coast it both would certainly come at a cost for the short-term, and possibly the long-term, with how locals access fisheries in the future.

And it could be difficult to keep those people with fishing licences away from the water when a good run swims by.

But something substantial needs to be done, said Guujaaw.
"What we have started here is the cutting edge of the northern hemisphere for marine planning and we know that there are examples in New Zealand and Australia that are already paying off," said Guujaaw.

And he left plenty of room for criticism, too, adding that it will not be as simple as a community-led initiative to ease the difficulties in the ocean.

"What we are up against is the self-interest of powerful fishing interests and licence holders, and the self-interest of political people who are going to be more concerned about being re-elected rather than how do you turn this around and save the ocean."

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