Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Podunk Below the Masthead (Wednesday, March 31, 2010)

Risky times for the Eulachon, lucky times for a Rupertite and NaiKun's disappointment at a BC Hydro decision, some of the items of interest for Wednesday.

Daily News, front page, headline story
EULACHON COULD BECOME LISTED AS A "SPECIES AT RISK"-- While the Eulachon run on the Skeena has been described as that of a bumper stock, in other locations on the west coast that isn't the case and in both Alaska and the coastal lower 48 things are so bad that the fish is about to be designated as a threatened species. Those concerns may spread across the border into Canadian waters with DFO in the process of  conducting an assessment on the state of the fish in Canada.

A birthday present of a lottery ticket set in motion a chain of events which proved to be a pretty impressive way to celebrate a birthday, as local resident Wichuta Nuanta won the Set for Life lottery taking home a prize of close to 1.2 million dollars over 25 years. Nuanta exchanged a scratch ticket from her birthday stash for a free play on the Set for Life, it was that subsequent ticket that proved to be lucky one which will most likely herald a bit of change in her life as she receives 1,000 dollars week for the next 25 years.

Yet another puzzling decision from the Provincial government as the Ministry of Children and Family Development withdrawas its funding for the success by 6 program, a much heralded development tool for early learning education that has received great reviews during its existence. Citing the government's recent deficit situation, Liberal Minister Mary Polak said that the cuts to the program were one of those decisions that governments have to make that wouldn't be liked. She went on to explain that the Ministry's staff were looking to discuss what could be done  with program ogranizers, but on a much more limited basis. The first casualty of the cutbacks is Duane Jackson  the local coordiantor for Success by Six who will be out of a job by this time next year.

The sports section reviews the plans of some local organizers to get minor baseball back in place in Prince Rupert. As we outlined on the blog earlier this month, Kendal Sheppard has been seeking out other Rupertites interested in re-starting the sport in the city, which hasn't had a minor baseball program in place for almost fifteen years now.

(Daily News Archive Items for Wednesday, March 31, 2010)

Eulachon could become listed as a ‘Species at Risk’
Local woman is "Set-for- Life"
Funding cut for success by 6
Dancer returns as part of Kelowna ballet

The Northern View
NaiKun no longer being considered for BC Hydro Clean Power Call -- Details on the latest setback for NaiKun Wind Power Development, who failed to make the second cut in BC Hydro's Clean Power call (see article here)

CFTK TV 7 News
BC Hydro Rejects Naikun Project -- CFTK Tv 7's review of the NaiKun story (see article here) CBC News British Columbia, Daybreak North No new items were posted to the CBC website for Tuesday Daybreak North is only posting selected items on their website now. The most recently posted items for this week can be found on the weekly archive for Daybreak North click here 

CBC News British Columbia, Daybreak North
No new items were posted to the CBC website for Tuesday

Daybreak North is only posting selected items on their website now. The Most recently posted items can be found in the archives for Daybreak North click here 

Daily News, front page, headline story 
Eulachon could become listed as a ‘Species at Risk’ 
By George T. Baker 
The Daily News
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A bumper stock of eulachon in the Skeena has not been mirrored in the United States, nor has it been reflected in the Kitimat area.

The eulachon’s continual decline in both Alaska and the lower 48 Pacific states has caused the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S. to place the fish under “Threatened Species” status. It may find the same fate later this year in British Columbia.

NOAA will list the species under the “Threatened” designation under the Endangered Species Act this week. 

According to NOAA spokesperson Brian Gorman, the U.S. has not accomplished much in researching the misunderstood fish, but the decision to list the fish was mainly in response to a request from a Washington State First Nation tribe.

The Cowlitz Tribe in Washington State, which once depended on abundant catches of eulachon in the Columbia River for food and an item of trade, asked for the listing in 2007.

 ``The tribe just had its annual eulachon ceremony a few weeks ago and there were none for us to dip. Our nets were empty,’’ Taylor Aalvik, director of the tribe’s Natural Resources Department, said in a statement to the Associated Press.

 “I don’t know if there has been much research done into [eulachon]. It has mainly been the decline in catch and reports from both recreational fishermen and commercial fishermen,” said Gorman.

Gorman added that as far as he was aware, there has been some consultation with Canadian counterparts regarding the listing, though he couldn’t say whether it was Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

“When we convened our biological review, which is what we do whenever we have to consider a listing under the ESA, we were in touch with Canadian folks to find out what the presence of [eulachon] was in B.C. and what the history of eulachon was in B.C.,” said Gorman.

Under the ESA, a “threatened” species is in danger of becoming endangered in the foreseeable future. An “endangered” species is one in danger of extinction in all or part of its range.

Eulachon, known as the Pacific Smelt in the U.S., are small ocean-going fish that historically ranged from northern California to the Bering Sea in Alaska. They return to rivers to spawn in late winter and early spring. This little fish is so high in body fat during spawning that it can be dried, strung on a wick and burned, lending another name to its list of aliases – candlefish.

In the U.S. there is a small and widely dispersed commercial and recreational fishery for pacific smelt.

There are two populations of eulachon swimming in North American rivers.

The group that will receive protection ranges from the Mad River in Northern California to the Skeena River in British Columbia. Like salmon, it lays its eggs in rivers late in the winter and spring and spends the rest of its life in the ocean. The other population ranges into Alaska and the Bering Sea.

 Issues that could make it more difficult to reverse the population decline include shrimp fishing, less water in rivers, and smelt being eaten by birds, seals and sea lions, the agency told AP.

The unexpected bumper crop in the Skeena river this year has given eulachon researchers a chance to really examine what exactly is going on with the greasy fish.

A local independent eulachon researcher, Dave Rolston, who is working with DFO, the World Wildlife Foundation and the Kitsumkalum band, said this year’s higher than usual numbers on the Skeena have been very useful to their research.

Rolston and his partner are working on three key strategies – critical eulachon spawning habitat; looking at various stock parameters, such as the size of the run and the male-to-female ratio; and lastly, looking at the eulachon larvae as they hatch to find out how many there are, how their habitat works and predicting the run size for the future.

Of course, that is one of the trickier parts about eulachon because there is still much unknown about what happens to them when they leave the rivers and hit the ocean.

 “It has helped that there a lot of eulachon in the river. You don’t have to go scraping for them as you would in a bad year,” said Rolston. “And it is also helped that there is no ice in the river this year. You can get in by boat.”

It is an El Nino year, which means that the warmer than normal conditions don’t only help fishermen, but also researchers trying to grasp what’s going on with this mysterious fish. Rolston said that they have found that the fish spawn in a ”dynamic” part of the Skeena. “It is just above the salt water, but you are substantively influenced by the tides. The water is turbid and dark so it is hard to see them,” said Rolston.

On the North Coast, reaction really depends on where you are. The Haisla of the Douglas Channel have listened to stories from Nisga’a and Tsimshian friends about the amazing year they are having on their rivers this late winter and early spring.

Haisla band councillor Gerald Amos said that the U.S. nomination of eulachon as threatened was the right move to make and he urged the Canadian government to do the same.

 “I listed eulachon as threatened in my own brain a few years ago. I think, on a personal level, that its about time the eulachon received that kind of attention and what remains to be seen is what we are prepared to do about it,” said Amos.

This year, both the Kidala and Kitlope Rivers have had no eulachon return.

 “The Skeena and Nass rivers had bumper crops this year, but in the case of the Kitlope River, which is pristine water with no logging and rip-rapping of the banks of the river, it is pretty much a natural system - and yet there are no eulachons,” explained Amos.

It isn’t clear if the listing would shut down eulachon fisheries – both commercial and recreational – in the U.S., but is a change that would likely be monitored by the North Coast First Nations. Both the Nisga’a and the Tsimshian have huge vested interest in the fishery that has been a staple of the Aboriginal diet for millennia.

The question now is whether or not the Canadian government will follow suit.

According to Karen Calla, Fisheries and Oceans Regional Manager for the Species At Risk, a eulachon assessment is under way in B.C.

The Committee on Status of the Endangered Wildlife in Canada is conducting the assessment and the DFO will await their findings.

 “We are expecting that they are going to finish their assessment for November. At that point, they would then assess the level and then from there it is forwarded to government and we evaluate the listing under the Species at Risk Act,” said Calla.

If COSEWIC has observed a decline of 50 per cent of the total number of mature individual over the last 10 years or 3 generations - whichever is the longer - eulachon would receive a threatened designation. If it were a 70 per cent reduction, the fish would be considered endangered.

Based simply on this year’s numbers in the Skeena and Nass Rivers, which some have claimed to be the best in six years, it would be difficult to argue that they have declined. And in the Douglas Channel, it has been another tough year for Haisla fishermen looking for tasty candlefish.

Rolston thought that the threatened decleration in the U.S. and a possible one in Canada would be a good turn of events.

 “I think threatened status is going to ramp up the profile. The Americans doing their thing doesn’t effect us directly, but it will probably free up some funds for researchers, which will ultimately help everyone.”

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