Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Haida Gwaii’s front row seat to climate change

A symposium held on Haida Gwaii has examined the impact of the changing environment on the resources and traditional ways on the islands.

Day one of the Ocean Forum provided some pretty depressing details on the state of the environment and the ongoing changes to the structure of both the ecosystem and the concerns they bring for the future for residents of Haida Gwaii.

In the first of what becomes a two part examination of the forum, the Daily News outlines the events from the first day of the sessions; the review was featured as the front page headline story in Monday’s paper.

The impacts of climate change are in plain sight for all to see on Haida Gwaii
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Monday, January 26, 2009
Pages one and three

Billy Yovenovitch knows that what happens next is important when it comes to the ocean. The 17-year-old from Skidegate, by no means an expert on ocean management planning, doesn't need a degree to see that planning for the immediate and distant future of the ocean is necessary.

He can plainly see right in front of his face.

"I don't think it is very good right now and here on Haida Gwaii it seems to be the worst because we are surrounded by the ocean," said Yovenovitch. "None of the fish seems to stay here anymore, it is all going away. It's kind of sad and it's kind of scary at the same time because I see the fishing industry going away in my lifetime."

It's not just Yovenovitch who feels that life through the ocean is becoming untenable.

The Haida youth was joined by elders who spoke about watching the ocean depleted during their lifetime.

One Haida woman said that there used to be 51 troller boats in Skidegate but now there was none and it appears to them the viability of commercial fishing has dried up.

And for those living on Haida Gwaii, much like many who live on the North Coast, are dealing with an ailing ocean and a declining standard of life so dependent on the water and its rich resources that for so long it has been inconceivable that what is produced from it won't be there.

But there may be hope yet.

Much like Prince Rupert's Together on the Coast, the Gaaysiigang Ocean Forum in Skidegate was about discussing a change in how North Coasters view the ocean and from a grassroots level, how they advise those who make decisions on the ocean can fulfill that change.

While the feeling is that things are progressing with how to manage the ocean, there is also a sense of fear that what has stood as a means to life is being drowned by competing interests in the deep waters.

Lodging, corporate fishing fleets, ocean tanker traffic and oil pipelines have caused many locals on the islands consternation over the future of their lifestyle.

And the experts asked to speak at the forum gave them good reason to worry.

From the Scripps Institution of Oceonology, keynote speaker Dr Jeremy Jackson opened the Ocean Forum on a dower note, explaining how the cod fisheries has been so depleted in the Atlantic that he believes it has been killed off from ever producing a sustainable economy ever again.

"In a lot of cases you have to stop fishing - not slow down - stop," Jackson warned the large audience at the Kaay Centre. "You need to protect at least 33 per cent of your marine management area to insure your future. The bottom line is you have to stop the massive killing of fish if you want it to continue."

Jackson's current research is looking at the long-term impact of human activities on the oceans, coral reef ecology, and the ecological and evolutionary consequences of the gradual formation of the Isthmus of Panama. According to him, humans pose both a risk and a solution to the ocean.

"A possible response going forward is to stop most fishing and develop ecologically responsible aquaculture on a massive scale."

And Jackson had a basic reason for his aquaculture theory.

"When was the last time (we) went out and hunted deer? We farm cattle and chicken because we can manage it," said Jackson.

He pointed to Australia where they have cordoned off 30 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef area from any sort of human interaction. He said that kind of large marine planning safe zone would have lasting strengthening effect on the ocean.

Jackson also argued that the local management is destroyed by the external market on the islands that local management is key going forward, something that the Council’ of Haida Nation have fought long and hard for.

Jackson discussed the idea of tragedy of the commons of the seas, or the idea that people have an unlimited right to fish. That was one of the largest reasons he said there has to be as much of a cultural change as a political change and management change to help save the oceans.

Jackson was followed by panellists and speakers all with a similar fear but also important message of hope.

Local commercial fisherman Lyndsey Doerksen said there needs to be a slow down in fishing lodges and the piloting of southern B.C. boats in northern waters.

"We also need to separate fisheries, one for the Atlantic and one for the Pacific. There is no one skilled enough to manage both, it is too complicated."

Certainly day one in Skidegate was by far the most depressing day. The tough medicine that those on Haida Gwaii had already known they would have to swallow was administered by a panel of guests who presented the perils of the ocean's future on the North Coast and the different players that will both live off of and effect the future of its survival.

As the day progressed, so did the discussion which transformed from the affect of lodges on the fish stock to the way the department of fisheries mismanagement has historically mismanaged the fishing industry on the north and then to the proposed pipeline projects.

And while after day one, there were no concrete resolutions, the day did produce a feeling that things could get better if managed properly.

Later at the Skidegate Community Hall, forum guests were treated to a local seafood dinner prepared by Gladys Hans and Crew.

HlGaagilda Children's Dance Group performed a tribute to fishermen and then everyone there feasted on the ocean's bounty.

But Yovenovitch had more to say about his own future and how it was tied to the water.

"I'll probably leave to go to school but I can't see myself leaving here for the long-term. It's a great place," said Yovenovitch, who was also pleased with the weekend's events.

"This forum is a great thing too because there are people from out of town and people from in town and they are all talking about ways we can solve our problems of the ocean. Something good has to come out of it."

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