Genes that protected coastal First Nations from ancient pathogens brought “catastrophic” vulnerability to European diseases

The immune system genes that protected north coast First Nations from possibly dangerous local pathogens thousands of years ago likely increased their vulnerability to European diseases in the nineteenth century, resulting in the disastrous population crash, a new genetic study has discovered.

The study which included members of the Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla First Nations at Prince Rupert “opens a new window on the catastrophic consequences of European colonization for indigenous peoples in that part of the world,” the study authors said in a news release.

The study, published today in Nature Communications, looked at the genomes of 25 individuals who lived 1,000 to 6,000 years ago in what the study calls PRH—the Prince Rupert Harbour region– and 25 of their descendants who still live in the region today.

The study is a follow up to one published in 2013 that used DNA to prove that the remains of a woman from 5,500 years ago was tied directly through the maternal line to members of today’s Metlakatla Nation.

“This is the first genome-wide study – where we have population-level data, not just a few individuals – that spans 6,000 years,” said University of Illinois anthropology professor Ripan Malhi, who co-led the new research with former graduate student John Lindo (now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago) and Pennsylvania State University biology professor Michael DeGiorgio. Both studies were carried out with the consent and cooperation of the Coastal Tsimshian people.

The new study analyzes the “exome,” the entire collection of genes that contribute to a person’s traits.

The ruins of a Haida longhouse at Tanu. Smallpox and other diseases brought a catastrophic population crash among coastal First Nations in the nineteenth century. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
The ruins of a Haida longhouse at Tanu. Smallpox and other diseases brought a catastrophic population crash among coastal First Nations in the nineteenth century. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

“Oral traditions and archaeological evidence to date have shown that there has been continuous aboriginal occupation of this region for more than 9,000 years. This study adds another layer of scientific data linking the actual ancestral human remains to their modern descendants through their DNA over a span of 6,000 years,” said Barbara Petzelt, a co-author of the study and a liaison to the Metlakatla community. “It’s exciting to see how this tool of DNA science adds to the larger picture of Coast Tsimshian pre- and post-contact history – without the taint of historic European observer bias.”

In the new study, the team found that variants of an immune-related gene that were beneficial to many of those living in the region before European contact proved disadvantageous once the Europeans arrived.

The genes, the human leukocyte antigen gene family, known as HLA, helps the body recognize and respond to pathogens, or disease causing bacteria and viruses.

The authors say the “the immunological history of the indigenous people of the Americas is undoubtedly complex.”

As people came to the American continents about 15,000 to 20,000 years ago “indigenous people adapted to local pathogens.”

Statistical analyses revealed that the ancient genes were under “positive selection” before European contact. Natural selection meant that those ancient people with genetic resistance to those local diseases had an advantage that resulted in the genes becoming part of the population.

But the study indicates “those adaptations would have proven useful in ancient times but not necessarily after European colonialists altered the environment with their pathogens, some of which may have been novel. Existing genetic variation as a result of adaptation before European contact could thus have contributed to the indigenous population decline after European contact.”

The “positive selection” genes found in the remains of ancient members of the Coast Tsimshian people, has been replaced by another gene among the modern descendants that “has been associated with a variety of colonization-era infectious diseases, including measles and tuberculosis, and with the adaptive immune response to the vaccinia virus, which is an attenuated form of smallpox,” the authors wrote.

One of the genes is “64 percent less common today among the Coast Tsimshian people than it was before original European contact, which is a dramatic decline,” Lindo said.

The modern Coast Tsimshian show a “reduction in ‘effective population size’ of 57 per cent,” the researchers reported.

“’Effective population size’ is a population genetic concept that is different from what we normally think of with census population size,” Malhi said in an e-mail to Northwest Coast Energy News. “It basically means that there was a large drop in genetic diversity after European contact that could have been due to disease, warfare or other things that would result in this large population decline.”

The dramatic die-off occurred roughly 175 years ago, about the time that European diseases were sweeping through the First Nations of British Columbia.

While some members of the Coast Tsimshian community have intermarried with people of European descent over the past 175 years, the genetic changes cannot be solely attributed to what geneticists call “admixture.” The timing coincides with the documented smallpox epidemics of the 19th Century and historical reports of large-scale population declines. A majority of the “European admixture in the population likely occurred after the epidemics,” the study says.

To guard against what the study called “false positives” the genomes were also compared to individuals in the 1,000 Genome Project including 25 Han Chinese from Beijing as well as other indigenous peoples in the Americas including the Maya, the Suruí do Pará people of Brazil and a sample of Anzick DNA from the 12,000 year old remains of a child found buried in Montana.

“First Nations history mainly consists of oral stories passed from generation to generation. Our oral history tells of the deaths of a large percentage of our population by diseases from the European settlers.
“Smallpox, for our area, was particularly catastrophic,” said Jocelynn Mitchell, a Metlakatla co-author on the study. “We are pleased to have scientific evidence that corroborates our oral history. As technology continues to advance, we expect that science will continue to agree with the stories of our ancestors.”

The same vulnerability for smallpox, measles and tuberculous likely also contributed to the vulnerability to influenza, Malhi told Northwest Coast Energy News “It is important to note that any of these infectious diseases (measles, tuberculosis, smallpox, flu) could have resulted in the patterns that we are seeing. We just provided a few possibilities but not all possibilities.”

The study says the project was made possible through the active collaboration of the Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams First Nations.
The first collaborative DNA study began in 2007 and 2008. The scientists visited the communities each year “to report the most recent DNA results and obtain feedback on the results.”

“The two communities agreed to allow DNA analysis of ancestral individuals recovered from archaeological sites in the region and currently housed at the Canadian Museum of History. During and after community visits and extensive consultation, a research protocol and informed consent documents—agreed on by the indigenous communities and researchers—was approved by the University of Illinois Institutional Review Board. All individuals signed an informed consent document.”

These results were reported to the community and the scientists continue to visit the First Nations to report on this and related studies.

The study is titled “A time transect of exomes from a Native American population before and after European contact” and appeared in the Nov. 15, 2016, edition of Nature Communications.

Special Report: New study identifies earthquake hazards for Hartley Bay, Bella Bella, Kitimat and Terrace

UPDATED with comments from District of Kitimat, Terrace and the Gitga’at Nation

A preliminary seismic hazard assessment by Natural Resources Canada has identified possible earthquake scenarios for the Douglas Channel near Hartley Bay, Terrace and Bella Bella.

The same studies indicate that while Kitimat may not be directly in a seismic zone prolonged earthquakes cause some damage in Kitimat depending on the earthquake and the condition of the soil in certain parts of the District. One model scenario says that in the event of a magnitude 8.0 earthquake off the west coast of Haida Gwaii, given certain soil conditions, there might actually be more damage in Kitimat than on the islands.

Susceptibility to landslides

That assessment, part of the overall the study by the Geological Survey of Canada indicates that the north coast of British Columbia from Prince Rupert to Bella Bella is likely face to “seismically induced ground failure”– mostly landslides.

Overall, the report says that on a scale of 1 to 6 (6 representing the highest
susceptibility), the majority of the west coast of BC “exhibits landslide susceptibility values of 5 to 6, which is significantly higher than the rest of Canada.”

Geological Survey of Canada map showing parts of Canada that are prone to landslides. The BC North Coast study area is outlined by the rectangle. (Geological Survey of Canada)
Geological Survey of Canada map showing parts of Canada that are prone to landslides. The BC North Coast study area is outlined by the rectangle. (Geological Survey of Canada)

In British Columbia the landslides are most likely to be triggered by delayed melting of the annual snow pack, heavy rains, bank erosion and site loading and caused long-lasting damning of the river causing “damage to pipelines, rail, and forestry, as well as fish habitats.”

So far no recent landslides along the northern British Columbia coast are known to be caused by earthquakes, the reports say “the existence of numerous landslides strengthens the likelihood of seismically induced ground failures… due to the high levels of seismicity….it is expected that the increased likelihood of strong ground shaking (with long durations) will increase the landslide susceptibility.”

New studies

It was only after the 2012 Haida Gwaii earthquake and with what the Geological Survey of Canada calls “a growing number of on-going and planned infrastructure projects, BC’s north coast is emerging as a region of high strategic importance to Canada’s economy,” that studies began in area where “there has been minimal research to understand earthquake hazards.”

Now that studies have begun the Geological Survey has given the region its own new acronym BCNC (BC North Coast). Haida Gwaii is not part of BCNC, although earthquakes on those islands would likely impact the coast.

A Geological Survey of Canada map showing the BC North Coast region with earthquakes identified prior to and during recent studies. (Geological Survey of Canada)
A Geological Survey of Canada map showing the BC North Coast region with earthquakes identified prior to and during recent studies. (Geological Survey of Canada)

The Geological Survey says that historically “the BCNC has been seismically quiescent.” As a result “seismic monitoring and research related to the BCNC has been minimal.” That meant while larger earthquakes were “felt and recorded,” the configuration of the Canadian National Seismograph Network did not allow earthquakes less than approximately magnitude 2.1 to be monitored in northern BC.

Now the Geological Survey is looking at “long-term, continuous monitoring of micro seismicity, combined with geodetic and paleo seismic techniques” that could be used to study at the possibility of large earthquakes, including a possible fault on the lower Douglas Channel.

Since the studies began in August 2014, the Geological Survey identified 145 earthquakes within the study area, many too small to be felt since they are less than magnitude 2.0. Those earthquakes, however, were picked up by the new and improved instrumentation used by the earthquake monitors.

The two reports one on “seismic hazards” and the second on “geohazards” says five “temporary seismonitors”  (download reports from links below) were installed within the BCNC while some older stations were upgraded, saying, “It is expected that these new stations will be aid in locating small earthquakes” that were not previously detected by the existing network. The Geological Survey also installed ground movement monitoring GPS units along the coast.

The use of the term “temporary” raises the question about how much ongoing monitoring is planned.

The study also notes that the current data is not included in the seismic standards in the current National Building Code of Canada, which in turn is based on the Natural Resources Canada Seismic Hazard Map. That may mean that municipalities in the BC North Coast region, in the future, as the seismic studies continue, may have to consider updating building codes, especially in areas of “softer soils” as opposed to harder rock.

“Fault-like structure” on Douglas Channel

Detail of a map from the Geological Survey of Canada where the red line shows the 60 kilometre possible (still unconfirmed) fault line running from Gribbell Island to Princess Royal Island (Geological Survey of Canada)
Detail of a map from the Geological Survey of Canada where the red line shows the 60 kilometre possible (still unconfirmed) fault line running from Gribbell Island to Princess Royal Island (Geological Survey of Canada)

Over the years some small earthquakes have also been recorded on what the Geological Survey calls the “recently mapped fault-like structure” on Douglas Channel which was discovered in 2012. The survey is still calling it “fault-like” because it has not yet been confirmed as an active fault. A new map in the study shows that the “fault” runs from the southern tip of Gribbell Island, down the centre of Whale Channel east of Gil Island and then along the western coast of Princess Royal Island.

The study identified “a small, unfelt swarm of earthquakes between magnitude 1.7 and 2.0 between September 13 and 14, 2010 near Gil Island.”

There is also the previously identified ancient Grenville Channel Fault (ancient and believed inactive because it dates from the Cretaceous, the age of the dinosaurs) that runs from along Grenville Channel from Porcher Island in the north to Klemtu in the south which has experienced small earthquakes.

The report says geological studies of the Douglas Channel “fault-like structure” are a priority because, “Should this structure be determined to be an active fault, it would pose significant risk of earthquake-triggered landslides (and subsequent tsunami) from the susceptible Douglas Channel hill slopes.”

Clay and sand in Kitimat

The report also calls for more studies the local geology and soil conditions in the Kitimat Valley. A study back in 1984 by John Clague of Simon Fraser University showed that as the glaciers retreated during the last Ice Age there were “periods of stagnation” resulting in sediments that are thicker than other regions of British Columbia, Clague reported that in parts of Kitimat, the glacial moraine is hundreds of metres thick.

After the glaciers were gone, the sea levels rose and glaciomarine sediments (clay, silt up to 60 metres thick) were deposited until the sea level fell to present-day levels. The report says that as these marine deposits were exposed to fresh water, salts were leached out resulting in saturated, porous sediments, including clay, which are prone to failure. Boreholes in the Kitimat area show that the clay and sediments above the bedrock can range from 17 metres to 106 metres.

The report notes the presence of clay soils “can amplify ground shaking and secondary effects” as happened in November 1988 when there was an earthquake in the Saguenay region of Quebec.

Originally reported as a 6.2 magnitude but later downgraded to 5.9, on Nov. 25, 1988, the major earthquake was centered near the Quebec cities of Chicoutimi and Jonquière, with aftershocks felt as far away as Toronto, Halifax and Boston. The quake lasted for two minutes, catching thousands of people off guard and leaving buildings damaged and power out for hundreds of thousands of Quebecers.

CBC Television reported the earthquake caused a leak of toxic gas at the Alcan Aluminum plant at Jonquière, which was quickly contained. “There was no wind, we were basically lucky,” Alcan spokesman Jacques Dubac told CBC News at the time. 

Terrace earthquake

The report says the most significant event within the BC North Coast study region (which as mentioned doesn’t include Haida Gwaii) was a magnitude 4.9 earthquake approximately 20 kilometers southwest of Terrace on November 5, 1973, which was felt as far as 120 kilometers away, with some minor damage (broken windows and cracked plaster) reported near the epicentre. The main shock at Terrace was preceded by a magnitude 2.5 foreshock four hours before, and followed by a felt magnitude 3.7 aftershock the next day.

Bella Bella at risk

Another area most at risk, according to the report, is southern part of the BC North Coast zone, near Bella Bella, which is close to the northern section  Cascadia Subduction Zone  a “1,000 kilometre long dipping fault that stretches from Northern Vancouver Island to Cape Mendocino California” which one day will cause a major earthquake along the fault.

Cascadia subduction zone (USGS)
Cascadia subduction zone (USGS)

The report says that a magnitude 9.0 or higher earthquake in the northern Cascadia Subduction zone close to Bella Bella would be similar to the March 2011 earthquake in Japan and the 1964 Good Friday earthquake in Alaska.

For the northern part of the BC North Coast region, hazards could come from either a major earthquake off Haida Gwaii or a similar earthquake in south-eastern Alaska.

The greatest hazard would come from “long period” earthquakes greater than magnitude 6.75 with an epicentre between 300 and 350 kilometers away where the shaking lasts longer than one second.

The Geological Survey modeled three possible scenarios for major earthquakes in the BC North Coast Region.

Model #1. A magnitude 8.0 Earthquake at Haida Gwaii

The Geological Survey Canada model for an 8.0 magnitude earthquake west of Haida Gwaii. The possible damage is colour coded in the table below the map according to the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale (Geological Survey of Canada)
The Geological Survey Canada model for an 8.0 magnitude earthquake west of Haida Gwaii. The possible damage is colour coded in the table below the map according to the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale.  The red polygon represents the area of possible rupture in the model with the star representing the epicentre. (Geological Survey of Canada)

The model looked at a “plausible maximum predicted” magnitude 8.0 thrust fault earthquake off the west coast of Haida Gwaii which would be twice as strong in the fault area as the 7.8 quake on October 28, 2012 (Remember Magnitudes are based on a logarithmic scale. That means for each whole number higher, the amplitude of the ground motion recorded by a seismograph goes up ten times so magnitude 8 earthquake would result in ten times the ground shaking as a magnitude 7 earthquake)

For a short period earthquake, the report estimates that there would be minimal damage on Haida Gwaii similar to the damage from the 2012 earthquake with little or no damage on the BC North Coast.

A long duration, long period earthquake that lasted longer than one second and up to three seconds or longer “may effect taller structures and trigger ground failure (that is liquefaction and lateral shaking).” Kitimat would feel that earthquake with the worst shaking in parts of the District with what the report calls “sensitive soils.” Coastal islands would feel double the amount of shaking as would occur in Kitimat.

Model #2. A magnitude 7.2 Earthquake in Douglas Channel

 The Geological Survey Canada model for a 7/2 magnitude earthquake in the lower Douglas Channel. The possible damage is colour coded in the table below the map according to the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale. The red star represents the possible epicentre. (Geological Survey of Canada)

The Geological Survey Canada model for a 7/2 magnitude earthquake in the lower Douglas Channel. The possible damage is colour coded in the table below the map according to the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale. The red star represents the possible epicentre. (Geological Survey of Canada)

The second model looked at an earthquake in Douglas Channel based on the “fault like structure” if a slip strike rupture occurred along the entire 60 kilometers of the so far unconfirmed fault, resulting in a 7.2 magnitude earthquake. There would be very strong shaking within 20 kilometers radius of the epicentre, with moderate to heavy damage” in the relatively uninhabited islands, major shaking in Hartley Bay, resulting in very strong to strong damage at Hartley Bay and strong to moderate damage in Kitimat.

That earthquake, however, would be felt across the entire province of British Columbia. The report notes:

The expected effects and impacts of such an earthquake would mimic those of the 1946 magnitude 7.3 Vancouver Island earthquake, which occurred slightly west of Courtney and Campbell River. Shaking due to the 1946 earthquake was felt as far as Prince Rupert, BC to the north and Portland, Oregon to the south. In addition to knocking down 75 per cent of the chimneys in the local area, much of the earthquake-related damage was due to landslides, slumping and liquefaction

Model #3  A magnitude 6.3 Earthquake near Terrace

 The Geological Survey Canada model for an 6.3 magnitude earthquake southwest of Terrace. The possible damage is colour coded in the table below the map according to the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale. The red polygon represents the area of possible rupture in the model with the star representing the epicentre. (Geological Survey of Canada)

The Geological Survey Canada model for an 6.3 magnitude earthquake southwest of Terrace. The possible damage is colour coded in the table below the map according to the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale. The red polygon represents the area of possible rupture in the model with the star representing the epicentre. (Geological Survey of Canada)

On May 11, 1973, a magnitude 4.7 shallow earthquake took place about 20 kilometers south west of Terrace, on the south side of the Skeena roughly across from the Shames mountain area. The earthquake was felt up to 120 kilometers away. The report says “The event has not been associated with any geologic features in the area and little is known about its rupture process.” The model estimated the results of a larger earthquake 6.3 magnitude in the same area. The model showed there would be strong to very strong shaking in Terrace, light to moderate shaking in Kitimat and light damage elsewhere in the BC North Coast. Most of the damage would be concentrated in a 20 kilometer zone around the epicentre.

Motivation for study

It was not just potential industrial development that motivated the new studies. The discovery of that possible fault line in the lower Douglas Channel was also a factor. Studies between 2007 and 2009 revealed there were two large submarine slides on Hawkesbury Island during the mid-Holocene sometime between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago 

The cause of the two failures is still unknown but the report says “their proximity to a nearby unmapped fault-like structure suggests that the slides could have been triggered by strong ground shaking from rupture along this structure.”

Another factor was the two well-known landslides occurred in the 1970’s in the Kitimat Arm which generated tsunamis but fortunately they occurred at low tide which decreased the impact. On October 17, 1974 a submarine slide generated a 2.8 metre tsunami. The following year on April 27, 1975, a slope failure on the northeast side of Kitimat Arm (which overlapped the 1974 failure area) displaced an estimated upper limit of 26,000,000 cubic metres of material.

“Watermark observations in Kitamaat Village estimated that the tsunami generated by this slide was up to 8.2 metres high.” The report says that while the trigger of the first event is unknown; the latter event coincided with nearby construction at that time. Modelling of the 1975 slide estimates that given the right conditions the generated tsunami waves could have been as high as 11 metres.

The report also notes that numerous landslides have also been mapped by the BC Department of Forestry in an attempt to improve safety measures for forestry workers.

The report says “The culmination of these studies brings awareness to the significant natural hazards present in the fragile coastal environment of the Coast Ranges.”

Another factor is the geology of the BC coast. The granitic mountains have rugged, steep slopes dissected by an intricate fjord system and dotted with islands of lower elevation. At lower elevations the land is covered by wet, coastal hemlock forests, which could be vulnerable to ground failures whereas higher elevations are characterized by barren rock or mountain hemlock subalpine.

Table of Seismic monitoring and GPS stations in northern BC from the Geological Survey of Canada (Geological Survey of Canada)
Table of Seismic monitoring and GPS stations in northern BC from the Geological Survey of Canada (Geological Survey of Canada)

The District of Kitimat said it has “not directly studied these issues but we are aware of potential hazards.” The development department has been advised of potential issues and site concerns.

A spokesperson for Terrace mayor Carol Leclerc told Northwest Coast Energy News in an e-mail. “I have reviewed it and distributed it to the relevant department heads. We are aware that historically Terrace has been at risk for experiencing seismic activity due to its location.”

The District of Kitimat did cooperate with National Resources in finding a location for their recently installed seismic equipment.

At Harley Bay, Gitga’at First Nation CEO Ellen Torng said the Gitga’at have been “ working with NRCan on their research in the Douglas Channel and in Hawksbury. NRC has been meeting with First Nations along the coast and have conducted community sessions on their research.

“We hosted one community session here in Hartley Bay and have regular updates from their technical team when they are in the area,” Torng said.

In addition, the District of Kitimat told Northwest Coast Energy News that Community Planning & Development department also provided local land information to geoscientists in the years leading up an international study called Batholiths on land in 2009.

Batholiths are large zones of molten rock that have solidified in the earth’s crust and are believed to play a key role in the formation and growth of continents. The Coast Mountain Range has a large concentration of batholiths, which means Kitimat was an excellent place to study the earth’s crust.

The project, which involved more than 50 scientists from nine Canadian and American universities, was set up to examine how mountain belts form and change over time and why continental mountain ranges are made of granite not basalt. Seismic imaging of the crust and mantle below the mountains required deploying thousands of seismic sensors and recorders, and recorded responses to several man-made detonations. Field work was completed in July 2009, and several scientific papers and dissertations have followed.

The Heiltsuk Nation was unable to respond to a request for comment due to the ongoing crisis from the sinking of the tug Nathan E. Stewart and the resulting spill of diesel fuel and other contaminants near Bella Bella.

Related Commentary: The earthshaking difference between Enbridge and LNG

Download the Geological Survey Studies (PDF)

Baseline Assessment of Seismic Hazards in British Columbia’s North Coast 2016

North Coast Geohazards 2016 Seismology Update

Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale

(from US Geological Survey )

Intensity Shaking Description/Damage
I Not felt Not felt except by a very few under especially favorable conditions.
II Weak Felt only by a few persons at rest,especially on upper floors of buildings.
III Weak Felt quite noticeably by persons indoors, especially on upper floors of buildings. Many people do not recognize it as an earthquake. Standing motor cars may rock slightly. Vibrations similar to the passing of a truck. Duration estimated.
IV Light Felt indoors by many, outdoors by few during the day. At night, some awakened. Dishes, windows, doors disturbed; walls make cracking sound. Sensation like heavy truck striking building. Standing motor cars rocked noticeably.
V Moderate Felt by nearly everyone; many awakened. Some dishes, windows broken. Unstable objects overturned. Pendulum clocks may stop.
VI Strong Felt by all, many frightened. Some heavy furniture moved; a few instances of fallen plaster. Damage slight.
VII Very strong Damage negligible in buildings of good design and construction; slight to moderate in well-built ordinary structures; considerable damage in poorly built or badly designed structures; some chimneys broken.
VIII Severe Damage slight in specially designed structures; considerable damage in ordinary substantial buildings with partial collapse. Damage great in poorly built structures. Fall of chimneys, factory stacks, columns, monuments, walls. Heavy furniture overturned.
IX Violent Damage considerable in specially designed structures; well-designed frame structures thrown out of plumb. Damage great in substantial buildings, with partial collapse. Buildings shifted off foundations.
X Extreme Some well-built wooden structures destroyed; most masonry and frame structures destroyed with foundations. Rails bent.

Prepare now for drastic climate change, UBC study warns First Nations’ fishery, other stakeholders

Fewer salmon; many more sardines.

That’s one of the predictions from a new study from the University of British Columbia, looking at the future of the fishery on the coast.

The study concentrates on the First Nations fishery and warns that aboriginal people could face a catastrophic decline in the harvest of traditional species, especially salmon and herring roe on kelp over the next thirty years, a decline that will also have an equally devastating effect on commercial and recreational fishing.

The main cause of the decline is climate change and the warming of the coastal waters. The study projected “modest to severe declines in catch potential” for all current commercial fisheries along the coast.

The study says that for the First Nations the between $28 million to $36 million in revenue they got from fishing between 2001 and 2010 could fall by up to 90 per cent depending on how the climate changes.

A chart from the UBC study shows possible decline in fish species under different climate scenarios. (PLOS1)
A chart from the UBC study shows possible decline in fish species under different climate scenarios. (PLOS1)

One scenario calls for a decline of up to 40 per cent in chinook and pink salmon.

If there is any good news, if you can call it that, the decline will be not as bad in northern coastal waters as it will be the warmer waters near the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island. The range of some species, including salmon, herring, halibut and possibly oolichan will move to farther north along the BC Coast and into Alaskan waters.

That means in time the warming waters will also encourage an increase in other species, including sardines and some clams.

The changing oceans mean that “an increase in the relative abundance of warmer-water species was projected to lead to new or increased opportunities for commercial harvests by 2050.”

The study is urging the First Nations and other stakeholders in the British Columbia fishery to start long term planning immediately to  anticipate changes in the coming decades.

The team of scientists led by Lauren Weatherdon, a graduate student at UBC, noted that while previous studies have looked at the impact of climate change on large-scale commercial fisheries, “few efforts have been made to quantitatively project impacts on small-scale subsistence and commercial fisheries that are economically, socially and culturally important to many coastal communities.”

The study Projected Scenarios for Coastal First Nations’ Fisheries Catch Potential under Climate Change: Management Challenges and Opportunities is published in the online journal PLOS One

The study was conducted in cooperation with the BC First Nations Fisheries Council and looked its seven coastal administrative regions “forming a sample of groups with diverse marine resources, geographical locations, territorial sizes, and treaty statuses.”

Within those regions 16 First Nations participated in the study, some under their treaty councils, including the Council of the Haida Nation, the Tsimshian Nations Treaty Society (including the Gitga’at at Hartley Bay and the Kitselas and Kitsumkalum near Terrace) and the Maa-nulth First Nations. The Heiltsuk First Nation at Bella Bella participated as an independent group.


The FNFC’s administrative regions intersect with five distinct ecological regions: the North Coast, comprising the Hecate Strait and Dixon Entrance; Haida Gwaii, which includes the waters surrounding the islands; the Central Coast, including Queen Charlotte Sound, Queen Charlotte Strait, and the southern tip of Hecate Strait; the Strait of Georgia; and the west coast of Vancouver Island (WCVI) .

The study says First Nations are likely to be exposed to different climate-related impacts on fisheries due to the differing ecological and biogeographical characteristics of these regions and to differing traditional and commercial harvests.

The study used a “dynamic bioclimate envelope” computer model to look at the changes to the distribution and relative abundances of the BC coastal species under two climate change scenarios, a high greenhouse gas model where society can’t curb emissions and a low greenhouse gas emission scenarios, depending on how society is able to curb the increase.

The study looked at ocean properties—including sea surface temperature, sea bottom temperature, salinity, oxygen concentration, surface action, and net primary production—using data from the US National Ocean and Atmospheric Administrations’  climate-related earth system model.

Climate change will mean that current species on the BC coast will “shift polewards.”

The study showed that by 2050, there could be declines in 87 of the 98 species in the study.

Greater losses in  what the study calls “species richness” is likely to occur towards the southern coast of British Columbia, falling primarily between 48°N and 51°N. But, overall,  species richness along coastal BC will continue—only with different species.

Most significantly the study projects a decline in the overall salmon catch from 17.1 per cent to 29.2 per cent, depending on the region and climate.

All aspects of the herring fishery, including roe herring, spawn-on-kelp, and the food and bait fishery could decline between 28.1 per cent and 49.2 per cent depending on the region.

The future of the oolichan is the most uncertain. One of the models studied projected a further 37.1 per cent decline in the oolichan, while other models called for for a decline between 5 per cent and 6.8 per cent. That will depend on how well, the oolichan already threatened in most regions of British Columbia are able to adapt to warmer waters or find a way to move their range northward.

The study says white sturgeon and Pacific sardines were projected to increase in abundance under both climate change scenarios, while manila clams were projected to increase in abundance by 14.5 per cent in one of the models. The eight remaining species showed little change.

The study suggests that the southern territories (Tsawwassen, Tla’amin, and Maa-nulth First Nations) will likely see a reduction in catch potential between -15.2 per cent and -27.8 per cent depending on how the climate changes.

On the north coast. The Haida and Tsimshian First Nations and those situated along the central or north-eastern coasts of Vancouver Island (Heiltsuk and ‘Namgis First Nations)  would likely see smaller reductions in relative catch for each territory, with estimates falling between -3.2 per cent and -8.2 per cent.

The study shows that for the First Nations along the North and Central Coasts of British Columbia (Gitga’at and Haida, and Heiltsuk and ‘Namgis) there will be neutral or positive shifts in catch potential for white sturgeon, kelp greenling, and two species of perch under both scenarios.

While varying regionally, both scenarios also suggested either a slight cumulative decline or negligible change in catch potential for clams, rockfish, lingcod, and sculpins across the North and Central Coast.

One potential problem the study suggests is that fishers in southern British Columbia may, in the future, try to move north to follow the harvest, leading to potential conflicts.  The cost of travel, may, however, discourage that.

One of the recommendations from the study is that First Nations revive the traditional clam gardens.

Traditional clam beds serve as an ideal example of a method that could be applied to offset climatic impacts through internalized mechanisms, using local cultivation to generate increased productivity by enhancing native habitat rather than redirecting extraction efforts towards other regions or species. Clam gardens constructed in a manner akin to those situated near ancient settlements of the Northern Coast Salish and Laich-kwil-tach First Nations have been found to generate higher clam densities, biomass, and growth rates than non-walled beaches . These benefits were observed for Pacific littleneck clams and butter clams , two clams that are of cultural, economic, and ecological importance to the region Reinstating clam beds in First Nations’ territorial lands has been suggested as a means of simultaneously achieving local conservation and cultural objectives and may thereby provide a politically and ecologically viable option for mitigating climate-related impacts.

The most important recommendation is that the First Nations and other stakeholders start cooperating immediately to offset how the changing climate with affect the fishery:

Management of salmon and herring stocks has been highly contentious due to the myriad of stakeholders who depend upon them, which include First Nations, recreational fisheries, and commercial fisheries….

Aside from fulfilling societal needs, salmon serve as key ecological components of the Pacific Northwest Coast, functioning as the mechanisms by which nutrients are transferred from the ocean to freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems

It says the projections show that a “redistribution of fishing effort” will not “fully offset declines in salmon and herring”

attaining a state of collaboration between First Nations, DFO, and other sectors has the potential to yield beneficial ecological and political results, if implemented correctly. Parallels exist between First Nations’ traditional fisheries management approaches and “modern” approaches (e.g., spatial management, mariculture, selective fishing, fishing closures), with differences arising primarily due to diverging worldviews.

It recommends local application of First Nations’ traditional management strategies to “provide opportunities to collaboratively engage in adaptive ecosystem-based management and to coordinate efforts to attain conservation objectives.”

They give an example of how the Nisga’a Nation have ensured their equal partnership in management by employing traditional fish wheel technology to monitor and assess stocks and by leveraging traditional ecosystem-based management practices that could be applied to plan long-term objectives and management approaches.

It concludes by saying that joint-management will not only work to reduce the impact of climate change but also head off potential conflict.

Through such joint-management regimes, traditional fisheries management strategies could be applied to advance localized research directives and to reduce impacts on stocks under unprecedented environmental change. Moreover, the risk of conflict over declining resources underlines the need to establish common and equitable ground to ensure successful joint management of fisheries, and to leverage collective expertise.

Chart from the study showing which fish species will move north up the coast as the climate changes. (PLOS1)
Chart from the study showing which fish species will move north up the coast as the climate changes. (PLOS1)

Canadian, US Coast Guards to exercise with Alaska emergency ship towing system

The United States Coast Guard says the US and Canadian Coast Guards will “conduct a towing evolution using a State of Alaska Emergency Towing System” on Friday afternoon off Juneau, Alaska.

The participating vessels are the Canadian Coast Guard  Marine Service Vessel and  Ice Strengthened Medium Navaids Tender CCGS Bartlett and the US Coast Guard cutter USGC Maple.  Like the Barlett, the Maple is also a buoy tender.

CCGS Barlett (Canadian Coast Guard)
CCGS Barlett (Canadian Coast Guard)

In 2014, when the Russian vessel Simushir was adrift off Haida Gwaii, the towing system on the Canadian Coast Guard’s Gordon Reid was inadequate and the line snapped.  A commercial tug was hired to take the Simushir into port at Prince Rupert.   As Northwest Coast Energy News reported in October, 2014, the US Coast Guard deployed the Alaska Towing System to Haida Gwaii but it wasn’t used at that time despite a record of success by the US Coast Guard in towing vessels off Alaska waters.


When the Simushir was adrift,  Alaska was ready, BC and Canada were not

On the Simushir, Oceans Minister Shea takes ministerial responsibility to a new low, the bottom of the sea





“Devastating megathrust earthquake” a “substantial hazard” for Haida Gwaii, Canada-US study warns

A “devastating megathrust earthquake” could hit Haida Gwaii sometime in the future, according to Canadian and US studies carried out after the magnitude 7.8 earthquake off Haida Gwaii on Oct. 27, 2012 and the 7.5 magnitude quake off Craig, Alaska, a few weeks later on Jan. 5, 2013.

The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake in Japan, both accompanied by major tsunamis are recent examples of “great” (higher than magnitude 8.0) megathrust earthquakes. Most of the concern on the west coast has been the likelihood of a megathrust earthquake on the Cascadia Fault on the Juan de Fuca plate that stretches from northern California to the middle of Vancouver Island.

New Douglas Channel geological studies near completion

Is Kitimat ready for a “big one?”

The 2012 Haida Gwaii main shock was the second largest seismic event in Canada since the establishment of a modern seismograph network. The first was the 1949 Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte earthquake with a magnitude of 8.1 That 1949 Haida Gwaii earthquake was a strike-slip event, where the plates move side-to-side, similar to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and other quakes on the San Andreas Fault in California.

The 2012 Haida Gwaii earthquake is characterized in the studies as a “mini-megathrust” event, where part of the crust is pushed upward, meaning that a larger megathrust could have much more destructive consequences from both the earthquake and a possible tsunami.

A diagram of the situation  off Haida Gwaii that triggered the October 2012 "mini megathrust" earthquake seen at the lower centre, while the 1949 slip strike   earthquake is seen at the top. (Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America)
A diagram of the situation off Haida Gwaii that triggered the October 2012 “mini megathrust” earthquake seen at the lower centre, while the 1949 slip strike earthquake is seen at the top. (Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America)

Complex system of faults

The new studies show that the Pacific and North America plate boundary off the coast of British Columbia and southeastern Alaska creates a system of faults capable of producing very large earthquakes. The scientists conclude that while the two earthquakes in 2012 and 2013 released strain built up over years on the tectonic plates, those events did not release strain along the Queen Charlotte Fault off the west coast of Haida Gwaii. That means the fault remains the likely source of a future large earthquake.

Map showing the pattern of earthquakes along the Queen Charlotte Fairweather Fault system and the location of the Queen Charlotte Terrace.  (Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America)
Map showing the pattern of earthquakes along the Queen Charlotte Fairweather Fault system and the location of the Queen Charlotte Terrace. (Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America)

A special issue of the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America (BSSA), released Monday, April 6, 2015, contains 19 scientific and technical papers, outlining the results of the work carried out over the past two years.

The team estimated the rupture dimension of the 2012 Haida Gwaii earthquake to be about 120 kilometres long at a depth of about 30 kilometres.

The Craig earthquake ruptured the Queen Charlotte fault over a distance of more than 100 kilometres and at a depth of about 20 kilometres.

The two areas are joined in what is called the Queen Charlotte Fairweather Fault System. To the south the Queen Charlotte Fault also interacts with the Juan de Fuca plate that stretches from Vancouver Island to northern California.

“The study of these two quakes revealed rich details about the interaction between the Pacific and North America Plates, advancing our understanding of the seismic hazard for the region,” said Thomas James, research scientist at Geological Survey of Canada.

Two faults off Haida Gwaii

The studies conclude that the interaction between the plates off Haida Gwaii is much more complex than previously believed. Before the 2012 earthquake, the Queen Charlotte Fault, a strike-slip fault similar to the San Andreas Fault in California, was believed to be the dominating tectonic structure in the area. The 2012 tremor confirmed the existence of a previously suspected thrust fault beneath what is called the “Queen Charlotte Terrace,” to the west of the Queen Charlotte Fault, where the Pacific plate is sliding at a low angle below the North American plate.

The Queen Charlotte Terrace, which is about a kilometre below the surface of the ocean, is built up of layers of sediment, several kilometres thick, scraped off the oceanic plate as it subducts under the North American plate. It may also include some fragments of oceanic crust. For most of the terrace, it is “present as a clearly defined linear feature,” but the study adds: “north of about 53.5° N, a complex pattern of ridges and valleys appears.”

The earthquake was “essentially a mini-megathrust earthquake along the dipping plate interface of a subduction system,” one of the scientific papers says. The epicenter of the Haida Gwaii main shock was located about five kilometres landward (northeast) of the Queen Charlotte Fault. That probably means that the rupture was near the bottom of the locked plates, where the plate motion’s side to side movement is also thrusting downward. Significant aftershocks appeared to cluster on the periphery of the main rupture zone with most of the aftershocks occurring seaward to the west.

The scientists used GPS observations of crustal motion to locate the earthquake’s rupture offshore to the west of Haida Gwaii.

The situation off Haida Gwaii is complex because while the Pacific plate is converging with the North American plate at a rate of 15 to 20 millimetres a year, at the same time the two plates are slipping by each other toward the north northwest at angle of about 20 degrees at a rate of about 50 millimetres a year.

Honn Kao, a seismologist with the Geological Survey of Canada said, “This was an event the thrust interface of the plate boundary system, confirming that there is a subduction system in the Haida Gwaii area.

“The implication of a confirmed subduction zone is that in addition to the Queen Charlotte Fault, we now have another source which can produce devastating megathrust earthquakes in the area,” said Kao.

The study of the Haida Gwaii tremor looked at the causative faults, the rupture processes and depths of the main shock and sequence of strong aftershocks.

The Haida Gwaii earthquake generated a significant tsunami that left deposits indicating run-up exceeding 3 metres (maximum 13 metres) in a number of bays and inlets along about 230 kilometres along the west coast of Haida Gwaii. In Hawaii, a 0.8 metre wave was measured on a tide gauge.

In Queen Charlotte City perceptible shaking lasted for one and half to two minutes, with very strong shaking for about 30 seconds. The earthquake was felt as far away as Yukon Territory, Alberta, and Montana.

The study says “Damage was limited, in part owing to the sparse population, but also because of the seismic resistance of the generally low rise, wood-frame buildings on the islands. Felt intensities were at expected values close to the source zone, but regional intensities were smaller than predicted.”

The Haida Gwaii rupture also shook southeastern Alaska. The northwest direction of ground motion then may have influenced the timing of the Craig earthquake a few weeks later in January 2013. That earthquake occurred farther north in southeast Alaska, where relative plate motion is nearly parallel to the Queen Charlotte fault.


Map showing the pattern of aftershocks following the October 2012 Haida Gwaii earthquake. (Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America)
Map showing the pattern of aftershocks following the October 2012 Haida Gwaii earthquake. (Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America)

The Haida Gwaii aftershocks clustered around the periphery of the rupture zone, both on the seaward and landward side of the plate boundary and reflected what the study calls “normal faulting behavior–caused by the bending, extending or stretching of rock– rather than the thrust faulting of the main shock.” The pattern of aftershocks is similar to those observed after the 2011 Japanese megathrust earthquake.

“Our observations of normal faulting imply that the main shock of the Haida Gwaii earthquake dramatically altered the stress field in the rupture zone, especially in a neighboring region,” Kao said.

The distribution of aftershocks occurred to the north of a previously identified seismic gap where large earthquakes have not occurred in historic times. The gap is located to the south of the where 1949 magnitude 8.1 Queen Charlotte earthquake ruptured.

Though the Haida Gwaii earthquake may have activated some part of the Queen Charlotte Fault, Kao said, it was limited and did not relieve stress along the seismic gap.

The study concludes:

The Haida Gwaii event confirmed substantial seismic and tsunami hazard from large thrust events on the plate margin along the southern Queen Charlotte fault. It occurred where relatively young oceanic lithosphere under thrusts North America and in some ways is an analog for the much larger megathrust earthquakes known to occur on the Cascadia subduction zone to the south, where the young Juan de Fuca plate and other small plates subduct beneath North America. The Haida Gwaii earthquake had a complex pattern of main shock rupture and aftershocks and a large tsunami.

Further study needed

The Geological Survey of Canada plans further studies to understand the formations off Haida Gwaii.
One question to ask is if there are any records of major earthquake events in the past history of Haida Gwaii. The study notes that the impact of the tsunami was relatively minor “in this region with steep rocky coastlines.” That means there are limited sources of coastal sediments that can be checked for past events. It adds: “Low-elevation lakes, ponds, and bogs may offer the best opportunities for paleotsunami studies” warning that large earthquakes in the past that produced tsunamis may have left little evidence in the “paleoseismic record of Haida Gwaii and similar settings worldwide.”




Megathrust earthquakes occur at subduction zones at destructive plate boundaries where one tectonic plate is subducted (forced underneath) by another. These interplate earthquakes are the planet’s most powerful, with moment magnitudes that can exceed 9.0. Since 1900, all earthquakes of magnitude 9.0 or greater have been megathrust earthquakes. During the rupture, one side of the fault is pushed upwards relative to the other, and it is this type of movement that is known as thrust. The displacement of the ocean in a thrust can trigger a tsunami.

Transform fault
A transform fault is one where the motion is predominantly horizontal. Those faults end abruptly and are connected on both ends to other faults, ridges, or subduction zones. The best-known (and most destructive) are those on land at the margins of tectonic plates. Transform faults are the only type of strike-slip faults at plate boundaries show strike-slip or side-to-side in movement.

Queen Charlotte Terrace
The Queen Charlotte Terrace is a 25 kilometre wide zone of built up marine sediment immediately west of the active Queen Charlotte fault. The crust is about 12 kilometres thick at the terrace. On Haida Gwaii, the earth’s crust is 18 kilometres thick at the eastern edge. On the BC mainland the crust is in excess of 30 kilometres thick.

Historic earthquakes.
The 1949 Haida Gwaii quake was one of the largest in the recorded history of North America.

The largest known earthquake along the coast was the megathrust event on the Cascadia fault on January 26, 1700 where the Juan de Fuca plate ruptured for about 1,000 kilometres along from what is now northern California to Vancouver Island, estimated at magnitude 9.0. The dating is based on a tsunami that hit Japan that had no associated local earthquake as well studies of tree rings from the remains of trees downed in the tsunami.

Related links
Kitimat to issue tsunami hazard and evacuation map

Afterearthquake Kitimat must immediately upgrade emergency communications

The earthshaking difference between Enbridge and LNG

DFO study on ancient Douglas Chanel tsunamis show minimal impact on Kitimat, devastation at Hartley Bay

Geological Survey of Canada identifies tsunami hazard, possible fault line on Douglas Channel

Scientists identify major Japanses style tsunami hazard for west coast

New Douglas Channel geological studies near completion

Three studies of the geology of Douglas Channel are near completion and publication, according to Natural Resources Canada. That news comes as studies, released today, warn of a major megathrust earthquake on the fault west of Haida Gwaii.

Northwest Coast Energy News asked the Geological Survey of Canada if there were any recent updates available after the agency said that a survey had located a “possible fault” on Hawkesbury Island during studies for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel.

“Devastating megathrust earthquake” a “substantial hazard” for Haida Gwaii, Canada-US study warns

Is Kitimat ready for a “big one?”

Natural Resources Canada responded with a statement: “NRCan continues to conduct research studies in the area, including study of possible faults. Three scientific expeditions have been completed on board Coast Guard research ships. The first two reports are in the final stages of editing, and will be published in the coming months. The third expedition was just completed; therefore the third report will be available later.”

The initial joint survey by the Geological Survey of Canada and Fisheries and Oceans in September 2012, found a tsunami hazard and a possible seismic fault in Douglas Channel near Kitimat.

Fault zone map Douglas Chanel
A 2012 map from the Geological Survey of Canada showing the line of a possible seismic fault on Douglas Channel (Geological Survey of Canada)

The follow up study by Fisheries and Oceans, released about three weeks after the Haida Gwaii earthquake, in November 2012,  identified two slope failure events on the southern end of Hawkesbury Island during the mid-Holecene period, between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago. That study showed that the tsunami from the slope failure reaching Kitimat would have been about 60 centimetres or 23 inches. Hartley Bay would have been hit by a wave height of 7.5 metres or about 25 feet.

More recently there were slope failures nearer to Kitimat. The first slope failure occurred on October 17, 1974, triggering a 2.4 metre tsunami at low tide. Then on April 27, 1975 there was a second slope failure near low tide on the northeast slope of the Kitimat Arm that generated an 8.2 metre tsunami. The 1975 tsunami destroyed the Northland Navigation dock near Kitimat and damaged the Haisla First Nation docks at Kitamaat Village.

Thomas James, of the Geological Survey told Northwest Coast Energy news about the team’s finding on the Haida Gwaii earthquake: “The studies focused on the Haida Gwaii and Craig earthquakes which happened at the Pacific and North American plate boundary, west of Haida Gwaii, so east of Haida Gwaii there’s no comparable plate boundaries that gives rise of historic sieismisticity.”

As well as the fact that recent studies say the mainland margin coastal zone has had very little historical seismicity, it adds no currently active faults have been identified. A study ten years ago identified some very ancient faults which have not been active since the Eocene, about 33 to 56 million years ago.
GPS studies show that in northwestern British Columbia coastal block is moving northeast at the rate of just 5 millimetres a year.

Related links
Kitimat to issue tsunami hazard and evacuation map

Afterearthquake Kitimat must immediately upgrade emergency communications

The earthshaking difference between Enbridge and LNG

DFO study on ancient Douglas Chanel tsunamis show minimal impact on Kitimat, devastation at Hartley Bay

Geological Survey of Canada identifies tsunami hazard, possible fault line on Douglas Channel

Scientists identify major Japanses style tsunami hazard for west coast

Is Kitimat ready for a “big one?”

Kitimat Emergency Coordinator Bob McLeod
Kitimat Emergency Coordinator Bob McLeod at the earthquake postmortem Oct. 29, 2012 (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Studies of the October 2012 magnitude 7.8 Haida Gwaii earthquake show that the region is vulnerable to a “major megathrust” earthquake along a newly confirmed fault line west of the islands.

That earthquake was felt in Kitimat and Kitamaat Village and a tsunami warning was issued within a few minutes.

So have the District of Kitimat, the Haisla Nation Council or Rio Tinto Alcan changed or upgrading their earthquake and tsunami plans in the past couple of years?

“Devastating megathrust earthquake” a “substantial hazard” for Haida Gwaii, Canada-US study warns

New Douglas Channel geological studies near completion

Bob McLeod, who recently retired as the District of Kitimat’s emergency coordinator, told Northwest Coast Energy News: “I think we’ve done quite a bit. One of the biggest issues in the first one was trying to get information out. We’ve come a long way on that. Whether you reach everyone or not, that’s another thing, because you never reach everybody. One of the critical things to me is getting the information out so you avoid all this Facebook, Twitter speculating and rumour. The communications aspect has improved a hundred fold.

“We did more work on the mapping and planning. Over the course of the last year, there were a lot of meetings with industry and various stakeholders, discussing emergency preparedness in general but touching on some of these other things as well.

“One of the things we did was to try to set up some shelter points. We have an agreement with the Baptist Church, the Catholic Church and the Seventh Day Adventists. They’re strategically located and could be gathering points for the various neighborhoods if necessary.

“We’ve also done quite a lot of work on Riverlodge as a group lodging centre, thinking in terms of an earthquake where there may be damage and you have to move people.

“We did look at the evacuation planning and we’ve had a couple of exercises involving that, looking strategically about how can you move people from certain neighborhoods, asking which neighborhoods would be at the most risk if you ended up with a tsunami situation.

As for tsunamis, McLeod said, “From everything we’ve heard and been told, tsunamis in extremely deep water like that is not going to be as dangerous as one in shallower water, but the possibility is still there.

“The thrusts are the killers when it comes to tsunamis, but there is a very good warning system on the tsunamis. We do get very very rapid feedback on the earthquakes.

“The only danger in that regard is if you have a severe earthquake and you have part of a mountain drop into the salt chuck, you’re going to get a massive wave and you’re going to get no warning whatsoever, like the Moon Bay collapse in the seventies.

“The emergency plan is in good shape. We scheduled a number of exercises last year through training programs.

“One of the things I personally push is personal preparedness. I think as a community, we fail greatly at that. That was evident even during the snowstorm. People are not just prepared to look after themselves, it’s unfortunate. You just have to keep chipping away.”

Last week, Northwest Coast Energy News asked Rio Tinto Alcan and the Haisla Nation Council if either could comment on updated earthquake or tsunami response plans. So we have received no answers.


Related links
Kitimat to issue tsunami hazard and evacuation map

After earthquake Kitimat must immediately upgrade emergency communications

The earthshaking difference between Enbridge and LNG

DFO study on ancient Douglas Chanel tsunamis show minimal impact on Kitimat, devastation at Hartley Bay

Geological Survey of Canada identifies tsunami hazard, possible fault line on Douglas Channel

Scientists identify major Japanses style tsunami hazard for west coast


Editorial: On the Simushir, Oceans Minister Gail Shea takes ministerial responsibility to a new low—the bottom of the sea

On Monday, October 20, 2014, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Gail Shea, stood in the House of Commons during Question Period and proved she is not up for the job.

Answering questions from  Opposition MPs about the incident of the Russian container ship, Simushir, which drifted dangerously close to the coast of Haida Gwaii, Shea got up and read a prepared script, a script with answers which ignored centuries of the laws and custom of the sea, as well as Canada’s own laws and treaty obligations, answers probably written by what are now known as “the kids in short pants” in the Prime Minister’s Office.

There was a time in this country when some ministers of the Crown took their responsibilities seriously. That idea that has decayed over the years and now has been gutted by the adminstration of Stephen Harper. As Ottawa pundits have noted recently, only a small handful of cabinet ministers in the Harper government have any real responsibility and only those  are permitted to answer questions by themselves in the Commons. According to most Ottawa insiders, the less important ministers, like Shea, are basically told what to do by the prime minister’s office.

Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, visited the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Leonard J. Cowley on Friday, December 6,  2013, to examine the fast rescue craft launching mechanism for offshore fishery patrols with Regional Director, Fleet, Stephen Decker and Captain Kerry Evely, Commanding Officer. The Cowley conducts fisheries patrols and monitors fishing activities under Canada's commitment to the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization. (DFO)
Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, visited the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Leonard J. Cowley on Friday, December 6, 2013, to examine the fast rescue craft launching mechanism for offshore fishery patrols with Regional Director, Fleet, Stephen Decker and Captain Kerry Evely, Commanding Officer. The Cowley conducts fisheries patrols and monitors fishing activities under Canada’s commitment to the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization. (DFO)

If the House of Commons under Harper could fall any lower, Shea’s attitude (or more likely the PMO’s attitude)  on ship and coastal safety takes the Commons and ministerial responsibility to a new low—the bottom of the sea.

Nathan Cullen, NDP MP for Skeena Bulkley Valley, who represents Haida Gwaii first asked. “Mr. Speaker, on Friday, a Russian ship carrying more than 500 million litres of bunker fuel lost all power just off the coast of Haida Gwaii.The Canadian Coast Guard vessel, the Gordon Reid, was hundreds of kilometres away, and it took almost 20 hours for it to reach the drifting ship. Thankfully, favourable winds helped keep the ship from running aground, and a private American tugboat eventually towed it to shore. Is the minister comfortable with a marine safety plan that is based on a U.S. tugboat and blind luck in order to keep B.C.’s coast safe?”

Shea responded.

“Mr. Speaker, luck had nothing to do with the situation.  The Russian ship lost power outside Canadian waters in very rough weather. The private sector provides towing service to the marine industry. We are grateful that the Canadian Coast Guard was able to keep the situation under control in very difficult conditions until the tug arrived from Prince Rupert.”

Cullen tried again:

“Mr. Speaker, if the government really wanted to show its gratitude to the Canadian Coast Guard maybe it would not have cut $20 million and 300 personnel from its budget. Even after the Gordon Reid arrived, its tow cable snapped three times. The Russian ship was only about a third as big as the huge supertankers that northern gateway would bring to the very same waters off the west coast. How can Conservatives, especially B.C. Conservatives, back their government’s plan to put hundreds of oil supertankers off the B.C. coast when we do not even have the capacity to protect ourselves right now?”

Shea replied: “Mr. Speaker, this Russian ship lost power outside of Canadian waters. The Canadian Coast Guard responded and kept the situation under control, under very difficult conditions, until the tug arrived from Prince Rupert.

We as a government have committed $6.8 billion through the renewal of the Coast Guard fleet, which demonstrates our support for the safety and security of our marine industries and for our environment.”

Related Link: Canadian Coast Guard Mid-Shore Patrol Vessel program

Next to try was Liberal MP Lawrence MacAulay from Cardigan.

“Mr. Speaker, the Russian container ship that drifted off the west coast raises serious concerns about the response capability of the Canadian Coast Guard. This serious situation was only under control when a U.S. tugboat arrived.”

Again Shea read her script: “This Russian ship lost power outside Canadian waters.  On the west coast, the private sector provides towing services to the marine industry.’

The final attempt by Liberal Joyce Murray, from Vancouver Quadra, also led to a scripted answer. “ this was a private towing vessel that came to tow the vessel that was in trouble.”

Shea’s answers, especially her repeated reference to “territorial waters” set off a series of “What the…?” posts on Twitter from west coast mariners and sailors, wondering if Shea knew anything about maritime law.

The first question one must ask was Shea actually not telling the whole truth to the House of Commons (which is forbidden by House rules) when she said the Simushir was outside Canadian waters? The Haida Nation, in a news release, (pdf) says the Simushir was “drifting about 12 Nautical Miles North West of Gowgaia Bay located off Moresby Island off Haida Gwaii.”

International law defines territorial waters  as a belt of coastal waters extending at most 12 nautical miles (22.2 km; 13.8 mi) from the baseline (usually the mean low-water mark) of a coastal state.

As Shea’s own DFO website says Canada has exercised jurisdiction over the territorial sea on its east and west coasts out to 12 nautical miles since 1970, first under the Territorial Sea and Fishing Zones Act and now under the Oceans Act. The baselines for measuring the territorial sea were originally set in 1967. While the exact position can and should be confirmed by the ship’s navigation logs and GPS track, it is clear that the container vessel could have been at one point after it lost power within Canada’s territorial waters.

Even if the Simushir wasn’t exactly within territorial waters, the ship was in what again Shea’s own DFO website calls the “contiguous zone “an area of the sea adjacent to and beyond the territorial sea. Its outer limit measures 24 nautical miles from the normal baseline zone.” In any case, the Simushir was well within what Canada says is its “exclusive economic zone” which extends 200 nautical miles from the coastal baseline.

Law of the Sea

So here is the first question about Shea’s competence.

How could she not know that the Simushir was well within Canadian jurisdiction, as defined by her own department’s website? Even if the minister hadn’t read the departmental website, wasn’t she properly briefed by DFO officials?

The second point, is that whether or not the Simushir was in  actually in Canada’s territorial waters is irrelevant. Custom going back centuries, and now the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea  and even the Canada Shipping Act all require the master of a capable vessel to render assistance once that vessel receives a distress call or sees that another vessel is in distress.

The Safety of Life at Sea Convention

… the master of a ship at sea which is in a position to be able to provide assistance, on receiving a signal from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance, if possible informing them or the search and rescue service that the ship is doing so.

And the Canada Shipping Act requires

Every qualified person who is the master of a vessel in any waters, on receiving a signal from any source that a person, a vessel or an aircraft is in distress, shall proceed with all speed to render assistance and shall, if possible, inform the persons in distress or the sender of the signal.

The master of a vessel in Canadian waters and every qualified person who is the master of avessel in any waters shall render assistance to every person who is found at sea and in danger of being lost.

Note the phrase any waters. Not just in Canadian territorial waters as the Shea, the minister responsible for the ocean seemed to imply in her Commons answers.

That once again calls into question Shea’s fitness to be a minister of the Crown.

If she did not know about the UN conventions on the law of the sea, of which Canada is signatory, or the Canada Shipping Act, she is not up for the job as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

If, as the minister responsible for oceans, she knew the law and was told by the PMO to mislead the House of Commons, she is is irresponsible and MPs should ask the Speaker if she actually broke the rules of the House.

 UN training document on the Law of the Sea Convention, including rescue at sea.  (pdf)

Regulation Seven of the Annex on Search and Rescue Services states

 Each Contracting Government undertakes to ensure that necessary arrangements are made for distress communication and co-ordination in their area of responsibility and for the rescue of persons in distress at sea around its coasts. These arrangements shall include the establishment, operation and maintenance of such search and rescue facilities as are deemed practicable and necessary, having regard to the density of the seagoing traffic and the navigational dangers, and shall, so far as possible, provide adequate means of locating and rescuing such persons.

Note that the regulation does not say within territorial waters, but “around its coasts.”

Rendering assistance

Canada has always rendered assistance to distressed vessels not just up and down the coast but around the world. Take the case of HMCS Chartlottetown. On February 3, 2008, HMCS Chartlottetown on anti-piracy and anti-terrorist patrol in the North Arabian Sea, spotted a rusty barge with some men stranded on the deck. It turned out the men were from Pakistan and that the vessel towing the barge had sunk with all hands, leaving only the men on the barge alive. The North Arabian Sea is far out side Canadian territorial waters.

In February, 2008. the crew of HMS Charlottown rescued the crew of a Pakistani barge that was drifting in the North Arabian sea after the tug that was hauling the barge sank. (MCS CHARLOTTETOWN’s approach team speaks to Pakistani crewmembers who were stranded on a barge after the vessel towing it sunk with their fellow crewmembers on board in the Northern Arabian Sea. MCS CHARLOTTETOWN’s approach team speaks to Pakistani crew members who were stranded on a barge after the vessel towing it sunk with their fellow crewmembers on board in the Northern Arabian Sea. (Cpl Robert LeBlanc,/Canadian Forces Combat Camera)
In February, 2008. the crew of HMCS Charlottetown rescued the crew of a Pakistani barge that was drifting in the North Arabian sea after the tug that was hauling the barge sank. (Cpl Robert LeBlanc,/Canadian Forces Combat Camera)

On must wonder then if the Harper Government, or at least Minister Shea is suggesting that this country ignore centuries of maritime law and custom and, in the future, pass that barge by because it was not in Canadian waters?

Perhaps buried in the next omnibus bill we will see the Harper Government restrict rescue at sea to Canadian territorial waters. Farfetched? Well that is what Minister Shea’s answer in the Commons seems to suggest.

Given the cutbacks to the Coast Guard services over the past few years, and if there are going to be large tankers, whether LNG or bitumen, on the west coast, it is an open question whether or not the Harper government has actually made  those “arrangements shall include the establishment, operation and maintenance of such search and rescue facilities as are deemed practicable and necessary, having regard to the density of the seagoing traffic and the navigational dangers, and shall, so far as possible, provide adequate means of locating and rescuing such persons.”

Now comes the question of the use of the tug Barbara Foss and the two Smit tugs that later joined to tow the Simushir into Prince Rupert harbour.

It is the responibility of the owner or manager of a disabled vessel, large or small, to contract with a tug or towing service to safely take it back to port. But, and it’s a big but, the tow begins only when it is safe to do so, if there is a danger of the ship foundering, sinking or running aground, it is the obligation of all the responding vessels to render assistance, not just the tug contracted to do the job.

(There are reports that the Simushir owners chose to hire the Barbara Foss rather than the heavy duty Smit tugs available at Prince Rupert. Jonathan Whitworth, CEO of Seaspan told Gary Mason of The Globe and Mail that there are about 80 boats on the west coast, capable of  heavy-duty towing, but noted that as in the case of the Simushir, those vessels may not be available when needed)

While around the Lower Mainland of BC, even a small boat that has run out of gas or has engine trouble can get commercial assistance from many service providers, the same is not true of the north coast, or at Haida Gwaii, where are no such regular services. Seapan’s Whitworth told The Globe and Mail there is often a 6,000 horsepower log hauling tug that works off Haida Gwaii. but he also noted that it would be too expensive to have a tug permanently moored on the archipelago.

That means mariners who run out of gas or have engine trouble, say on Douglas Channel, have to call Prince Rupert Coast Guard radio and request assistance either from nearby vessels or from the volunteer Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue  service. RCMSAR policy says that a the rescue boat will not tow a vessel if “commercial assistance is reguarly available.” If commercial assistance is not available RCMSAR is only obligated to tow the boat as far as a “safe haven,” where the boat can tie up safely or contract for that “commercial assistance.”

Here on Douglas Channel the safe haven is usually Kitimat harbour and thus during the summer frequently either a good  Samaritan vessel or RCMSAR take the disabled vessel all the way to MK Bay.

Shea’s pat answer to the Opposition questions only betrayed the fact that the east coast minister is woefully ignorant of conditions on the northern coast of British Columbia.

In the old days, a minister who screwed up so badly would be asked to resign. That never happens any more. Ministerial responsibility has sunk to the bottom of the sea.

The bigger picture question seems to be. Why, if the Harper government is so anxious to get hydrocarbons, whether bitumen or natural gas to “tide water” does it keep going out of its way to show its contempt for the people who live on Canada’s west coast?

A note for the voters of Prince Edward Island, where Shea is the member for Egmont. Consider this, if a ship gets into trouble outside the 12 mile limit, trouble that could threaten your beautiful red sandy beaches, you’re likely on your own.

Kitmat Votes: What the Joint Review Panel said about the Exxon Valdez disaster

Excerpts from the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel report relating to the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Northern Gateway told the Joint Reivew Panel that

on a worldwide basis, all data sets show a steady reduction in the number
and size of oil spills since the 1970s. This decline has been even more apparent since regulatory changes in 1990 following the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which required a phase-in of double-hulled tankers in the international fleet. No double-hulled tanker has sunk since 1990. There have been five incidents of double-hulled tankers that have had a collision or grounding that penetrated the cargo tanks. Resulting spills ranged from 700 to 2500 tonnes

The Haisla countered by saying:

The Haisla Nation said that, although there have been no major spills since the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, there were 111 reported incidents involving tanker traffic in Prince William Sound between 1997 and 2007. The three most common types of incidents were equipment malfunctions, problems with propulsion, steering, or engine function, and very small spills from tankers at berth at the marine terminal. The Haisla Nation said that, in the absence of state-of-the-art
prevention systems in Prince William Sound, any one of those incidents could have resulted in major vessel casualties or oil spills.

There were disputes about how the Exxon Valdez affected species in the Prince William  Sound area:

Northern Gateway said that, although crabs are known to be sensitive to toxic effects, they have been shown to recover within 1 to 2 years following
a spill such as the Exxon Valdez incident. Northern Gateway said that Dungeness crab was a key indicator species in its assessment of spill effects.

Northern Gateway said that potential effects to razor clams are not as well studied. It said that sediment toxicity studies after the Exxon Valdez spill did not suggest significant effects on benthic invertebrates. Following the Exxon Valdez and
Selendang Ayu oil spills in Alaska, food safety closures for species such as mussels, urchins, and crabs were lifted within 1 to 2 years following the

In response to questioning from the Council of the Haida Nation regarding potential spill effects on herring, Northern Gateway said that herring were a key indicator species in its spill assessment.
Northern Gateway said that the Exxon Valdez spill did not appear to cause population-level effects on Prince William Sound herring.

As did throughout its report, the Joint Review Panel gave great weight to Northern Gateway’s evidence:


Northern Gateway said that potential effects of oil stranded on the shorelines and in the intertidal environment were assessed qualitatively with particular reference to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. It said that the entire intertidal zone along affected
shorelines would likely be oiled, coating rocks, rockweed, and sessile invertebrates. Some of the diluted bitumen could penetrate coarse-grained intertidal substrates, and could subsequently be remobilized by tides and waves. There were
relatively few shoreline areas with potential for long oil residency. Northern Gateway said that the stranded bitumen would not be uniformly distributed, and that heavy oiling would likely be limited to a small proportion of affected shoreline. Northern
Gateway said that, compared to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the simulation suggested that more dilbit would be distributed along a shorter length of shoreline.

Northern Gateway said that, due to the relatively sheltered conditions in Wright Sound, and in the absence of cleanup, most of the stranded oil would be weathered or dispersed into the marine environment within 3 to 5 years. It said that,
while weathering and dispersal could represent an important secondary source of hydrocarbon contamination of offshore or subtidal sediments, the weathered hydrocarbons themselves would have lower toxicity than fresh dilbit.

Northern Gateway assessed potential effects on key marine receptors including marine water quality, subtidal sediment quality, intertidal sediment
quality, plankton, fish, and a number of bird and mammal species. The company said that acute effects from monocyclic aromatic hydrocarbons such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene may briefly occur in some areas. Acute effects from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were not likely due to their low water solubility.
Northern Gateway said that chronic adverse effects on the subtidal benthic community were not predicted. After a large spill, consumption advisories for pelagic, bottom-dwelling and anadromous fish, and invertebrates from open
water areas and subtidal sediments would probably be less than 1 year in duration. Northern Gateway said that consumption advisories for intertidal communities and associated invertebrates, such as mussels, could persist for 3 to 5 years or longer in
some sheltered areas.

But dilbit is different from heavy crude

In response to questions from the Haisla Nation and the United Fishermen and Allied
Workers Union, Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that, although it had a great deal of information on conventional oils, the results of research conducted on the biological effects of conventional oil products may not be true for dilbit or unconventional products. Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that it was not in a
position to quantify the magnitude and duration of impacts to marine resources

The United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union said that, because there are so many variables, each spill is a unique event, and some results will be unknowable. It said that a spill the size of the Exxon Valdez incident would affect the entire ecosystem
in the project area, and that recovery to pre-spill conditions would be unlikely to ever occur. It said that a spill the size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill would likely have similar effects in the project area because marine resources in the project area are
similar to those in Prince William Sound. It argued that the cold, sheltered, waters of the Confined Channel Assessment Area would likely experience reduced natural dispersion and biodegradation of oil, leading to heavier oiling and longer recovery
times than seen in Prince William Sound and elsewhere.

The United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union said that patches of buried oil from the Exxon Valdez oil have been found on sand and gravel beaches overlain by boulders and cobbles. It said that effects from a tanker spill associated with the
Enbridge Northern Gateway Project would likely be more severe than the Exxon Valdez oil spill due to the more persistent nature of dilbit and the lack of
natural cleaning action in the sheltered waters of the Confined Channel Assessment Area.

The Gitxaala Nation’s experts said that large historical spill events are not necessarily good indicators of what will happen in the future. They
argued that each spill has unique circumstances and there is still significant uncertainty about the effects of major spills.
The Gitxaala Nation concluded Northern Gateway had failed to adequately consider the potential consequences on ecological values of interest to the Gitxaala.

Gitga’at First Nation said that a spill of dilbit greater than 5,000 cubic metres would result in significant, adverse, long-term, lethal, and sublethal effects
to marine organisms, and that effects would be particularly long-lasting on intertidal species and habitats. It also said that effects from a tanker spill associated with the project would probably be more severe than the Exxon Valdez oil spill, due to
the more persistent nature of dilbit and the lack of natural cleaning action in the sheltered waters

The JRP told how Nothern Gateway looked at the scientific evidence:

The company used a case study approach and reviewed the scientific literature for environments similar to the project area. The review examined 48 spills, including the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, and 155 valued ecosystem components from  cold temperate and sub-arctic regions. Northern Gateway said that the scientific evidence is clear that, although oil spills have adverse effects on biophysical and human environments, ecosystems and their components recover with time.

Pacific herring, killer whales, and pink salmon were species that were extensively studied following the Exxon Valdez spill and were discussed by numerous participants in the Panel’s process.

As referred to by the Haisla Nation, Pacific herring are listed as “not recovering” by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. The Trustee Council said that, despite numerous studies to understand the effects of oil on herring, the causes constraining population recovery are not well understood.

Northern Gateway said that scientific evidence indicates that a combination of factors, including disease, nutrition, predation, and poor recruitment
appear to have contributed to the continued suppression of herring populations in Prince William Sound.

Northern Gateway said that 20 years of research on herring suggests that the Exxon Valdez oil spill is likely to have initially had localized effects on herring eggs and larvae, without causing effects at the population level. Northern Gateway said
that, even after 20 years, the effects of the spill on herring remain uncertain. It said that there has also been convergence amongst researchers that herring declines in the spill area cannot be connected to the spill.

Northern Gateway said that herring stocks along the entire coast of British
Columbia have been in overall decline for  years and that herring were shown to recover within 1 to 2 years following the Nestucca barge spill.

A Gitxaala Nation expert noted the uncertainty in interpreting the decline of herring following the Exxon Valdez oil spill and said that the debate is not likely to ever be settled.

The Living Oceans Society said that the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council reported that some killer whale groups suffered long-term damage from initial exposure to the spill. Northern Gateway’s expert said the research leads him to
conclude that the actual effects on killer whales of the Exxon Valdez spill are unknowable due to numerous confounding factors. He said that the
Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council has not definitively said that killer whale mortalities can be attributed to the spill. A Government of Canada
expert said that the weight of evidence suggests that the mortality of killer whales was most likely related to the spill.

Northern Gateway said that mass mortality of marine fish following a spill is rare. In response to questions from the Haisla Nation, Northern Gateway said that fish have the ability to metabolize potentially toxic substances such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. It said that international experience with oil spills has demonstrated that fin fishery closures tend to be very short in duration.
Northern Gateway said that food safety programs for fin fish conducted following the Exxon Valdez spill and the Selendang Ayu spill in Alaska indicated
that the finfish were not affected by the spill and that the fish were found, through food safety testing programs, to be safe to eat.

The Haisla Nation referred to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council report that discussed the complexities and uncertainties in the recovery status of pink salmon. It said that, by 1999, pink salmon were listed as recovered and that the
report noted that continuing exposure of embryos to lingering oil is negligible and unlikely to limit populations.

Northern Gateway said that the longterm effect of the spill on pink salmon survival is
best demonstrated by the success of adult returns following the spill. Northern Gateway said that, in the month following the spill, when there was still
free oil throughout Prince William Sound, hundreds of millions of natural and hatchery pink salmon fry migrated through the area. It argued that these fish would arguably be at greatest risk from spill-related effects but that the adult returns 2 years later were one of the highest populations ever. Northern Gateway said that sockeye and pink salmon appear to have been unaffected by the Exxon Valdez spill
over the long term.

In response to questions from the Council of the Haida Nation and the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union, Northern Gateway said that effects
on species such as seaweed, crabs, and clams have been shown to be relatively short-term, with these species typically recovering within 2 years or less
following a spill, depending on circumstances.

Northern Gateway said that, based on the Exxon Valdez spill, the level of hydrocarbons dissolved or suspended in the water column would be expected
to be substantially lower than those for which potential toxic effects on crabs or fish may occur.

In response to questions from BC Nature and Nature Canada, Northern Gateway said that the Exxon Valdez oil spill indicates which species of birds are most susceptible to oiling. Seabirds are generally vulnerable to oil spills because many species spend large amounts of time at sea. Diving seabirds such as murres are particularly vulnerable to oiling because they spend most of their time on the surface, where oil is found, and tend to raft  together. Thus, these species often account for most of the bird mortality associated with oil spills.

More than 30,000 seabird carcasses, of which 74 per cent were murres, were recovered following the Exxon Valdez spill and it was initially estimated
that between 100,000 and 300,000 seabirds were killed. However, detailed surveys of breeding murres in 1991 indicated no overall difference from pre-spill levels confirming rapid recovery of this species.

Northern Gateway said that, although potential toxicological effects from oil spills on
birds have been well documented in laboratory studies, the ultimate measure of recovery potential is how quickly birds return to their natural abundance and reproductive performance. It said that recovery is often difficult to measure due to
significant natural variation in populations and the fact that the baseline is often disputed. It said that this can lead to misinterpretation of results depicting recovery.

At the request of Environment Canada, Northern Gateway filed two reports on the susceptibility of marine birds to oil and the acute and chronic effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill on marine birds. Northern Gateway said that marine birds are
vulnerable to oil in several ways such as contact, direct or indirect ingestion, and loss of habitat.
It said that many marine bird populations appear to have recovered from the effects of the Exxon Valdez spill, but some species such as harlequin ducks and pigeon guillemots have not recovered, according to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee
Council. It said these reports demonstrate that marine birds are susceptible to marine oil spills to varying degrees depending on the species, its life
history and habitat, and circumstances associated with the spill.
Northern Gateway concluded that:
• Marine, freshwater, and terrestrial environments recover from oil spills, with recovery time influenced by the environment, the valued ecosystem components of interest, and other factors such as spill volume and characteristics
of the oil. Depending on the species and circumstances, recovery can be quite rapid or it can range from 2 to 20 years. Other scientific reviews have indicated that recovery of marine environments from oil spills takes 2 to 10 years.
• Different marine ecosystem components recover at different rates. Recovery time can range from days or weeks in the case of water quality, to years or decades for sheltered, soft sediment marshes. Headlands and exposed rocky shores can take 1 to 4 years to recover.
• Little to no oil remained on the shoreline after 3 years for the vast majority of shoreline oiled following the Exxon Valdez spill,
• The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council concluded that, after 20 years, any remaining Exxon Valdez oil in subtidal sediment is no longer a concern, and that subtidal communities are very likely to have recovered.
• Because sheltered habitats have long recovery times, modern spill response gives high priority to preventing oil from entering marshes and other protected shoreline areas.
• Valued ecosystem components with short life spans can recover relatively rapidly, within days to a few years. Recovery is faster when there is an abundant supply of propagules close to the affected area. For example, drifting larvae from
un-oiled marine and freshwater habitats will rapidly repopulate nearby areas affected by a spill.
• Plankton recovery is typically very rapid.
• Seabed organisms such as filter feeders may be subject to acute effects for several years, depending on location, environmental conditions, and degree of oiling.
• Marine fisheries and other human harvesting activities appear to recover within about 2 to 5 years if the resource has recovered and has not been affected by factors other than the oil spill.
• Protracted litigation may delay resumption of fisheries and other harvesting.
• Local community involvement in spill response priorities and mitigation plans can reduce community impacts and speed recovery of
fisheries and harvesting activities.
• A long life span typically means a long recovery time, in the case of bird and mammal populations that can only recover by local reproduction rather
than by immigration from other areas.
• Fast moving rivers and streams tend to recover more quickly than slow flowing watercourses, due to dispersal of oil into the water column by turbulence, which can enhance dissolution, evaporation, and microbial degradation.
• Drinking water and other water uses can be affected by an oil spill for weeks to months. Drinking water advisories are usually issued. Groundwater use may be restricted for periods ranging from a few weeks to 2 years, depending on
the type of use.

• Groundwater can take years to decades to recover if oil reaches it. Groundwater does not appear to have been affected in the case of Enbridge’s Kalamazoo River spill, near Marshall, Michigan.

• Freshwater invertebrates appear to have recovered within 2 years in several cases.
• Freshwater fisheries may recover fully in as little as four years, with signs of partial recovery evident after only a few months. The ban on consumption of fish in the Kalamazoo River was to be lifted approximately two years following
the spill.
• Human activities are affected by factors such as cleanup activities, safety closures and harvesting bans. These typically persist for months to a few years.
• Appropriate cleanup can promote recovery, while inappropriate cleanup techniques can actually increase biophysical recovery time.
Modern spill response procedures carefully consider the most appropriate treatment for the oil type, level of contamination, and habitat type.
The Living Oceans Society noted the following in relation to potential recovery of the marine environment following a spill:
• Physical contamination and smothering are primary mechanisms that adversely affect marine life, particularly intertidal organisms.
• Birds and mammals suffer the greatest acute impact when exposed to oil at or near the water surface.
• Marine communities have variable resiliency to oil spills, from highly tolerant (plankton, kelp beds), to very intolerant (estuaries and sea otters). Impacts to communities and populations are very difficult to measure due
to lack of scientific methods to measure long term,sublethal, and chronic ecological impacts.
• As the return of the marine environment to the precise conditions that preceded the oil spill is unlikely, a measurement of spill recovery can be
based on a comparison of un-oiled sites with oiled sites of similar ecological characteristics.
• The Exxon Valdez oil spill killed many birds and sea otters. Population-level impacts to salmon, sea otters, harbour seals, and sea birds appear to have been low. Wildlife populations had recovered within their natural range of variability after 12 years.
• Intertidal habitats of Prince William Sound have shown surprisingly good recovery. Many shorelines that were heavily oiled and then cleaned appear much as they did before the spill. There is still residual buried oil on some beaches. Some mussel and clam beds have not fully recovered.
• The marine environment recovered with little intervention beyond initial cleaning. Natural flushing by waves and storms can be more effective than human intervention.
• Wildlife rescue and rehabilitation efforts had a marginal beneficial effect on the recovery of bird and mammal populations
• The impacted area of Prince William Sound had shown surprising resiliency and an ability to return to its natural state within the range of natural variability.
• The Exxon Valdez oil spill had significant and long-lasting effects on people and communities.

Questioning experts

The Panel posed a series of questions to experts representing Northern Gateway, federal government participants, and the Gitxaala First Nation regarding the potential recovery of marine ecosystems following a large oil spill.
Northern Gateway said that past marine spills have demonstrated that, over time, the environment will recover to a pre-spill state, and that most species fully recover. It said that species associated with the surface of the water tend to be most susceptible to oil spills, and that cleanup efforts can help direct and
accelerate natural restoration processes.
Federal government experts generally agreed with Northern Gateway’s responses, although they stressed that effects could be felt in areas other than the water surface, such as intertidal and subtidal zones. They said that it is difficult to define
and assess effects and recovery, depending on the species and availability of baseline information.
They said that most species may fully recover over time, and that the time frame for this recovery can be extremely variable depending on species and circumstances.
The Gitxaala Nation’s experts noted the potential for effects on species at the water surface and in intertidal areas, and noted exceptions to the notion that
the marine environment will naturally restore itself.
They said that full recovery can occur, depending on the circumstances, but is not guaranteed. They said that it is difficult to assess spill effects in the absence
of adequate baseline information.


Despite the quarter century of studies on the Exxon Valdez inicident, the paucity of studies prior to the spill mean that arguments will continue over “baseline information.”

Participants told the Panel that a lack of baseline information has often made it difficult to separate spill-related effects from those that were caused by natural variation or other causes not related to a spill.

Northern Gateway acknowledged the need for adequate baseline information. Parties such as Coastal First Nations, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and the Gitxaala Nation said that Northern Gateway had provided insufficient baseline information to assess future spill-related effects. The Kitsumkalum First Nation asked how
spill-related effects on traditionally harvested foods could be assessed in the absence of baseline information.

The Haisla Nation noted the importance of collecting baseline data in the Kitimat River valley to compare with construction and spill-related impacts. The Haisla Nation submitted a report outlining important considerations for a baseline
monitoring program. One recommendation was that the program should engage stakeholders and be proponent-funded. In response to questions
from Northern Gateway, the Haisla Nation noted that a design along the lines of a before/after control/impact model would be appropriate.

In response to these comments, Northern Gateway noted its commitment to implement a Pipeline Environmental Effects Monitoring Program. Northern Gateway’s
proposed framework for the monitoring program indicates that a number of water column, sediment, and biological indicators would be monitored.
The Raincoast Conservation Foundation said that one of the principal lessons learned from the Exxon Valdez oil spill was the importance of collecting abundance and distribution data for non-commercial species. Because baseline information was
lacking, spill effects on coastal wildlife were difficult to determine. Environment Canada also noted the importance of adequate baseline information to
assess, for example, spill-related effects on marine birds.

Northern Gateway outlined the baseline measurements that it had already conducted as part of its environmental assessment. It also said that is
would implement a Marine Environmental Effects Monitoring Program. Northern Gateway said that the initial baseline data, plus ongoing monitoring,
would create a good baseline for environmental quality and the abundance, distribution, and diversity of marine biota. In the event of an oil spill
it would also help inform decisions about restoration endpoints.

Northern Gateway said that it would provide Aboriginal groups with the opportunity to undertake baseline harvesting studies. In response to questions from the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union, Northern Gateway said that baseline information gathered through the environmental effects monitoring program would also be relevant to commercial harvest management and for assessing compensation claims in the event of a spill.
The Kitimat Valley Naturalists noted the ecological importance of the Kitimat River estuary.

The Joint Review Panel, in its conclusions and ruling, generally agreed with the energy industry that affects of a major oil spill would be temporary.

The Panel heard evidence and opinion regarding the value that the public and Aboriginal groups place on a healthy natural environment.

The Panel finds that it is not able to quantify how a spill could affect people’s values and perceptions.
The Panel finds that any large spill would have short-term negative effects on people’s values, perceptions and sense of wellbeing.

The Panel is of the view that implementation of appropriate mitigation and compensation following a spill would lessen these effects over time. The
Panel heard that protracted litigation can delay recovery of the human environment.

The Panel heard that appropriate engagement of communities in determining spill response priorities and developing community mitigation plans can also lessen effects on communities. Northern Gateway has committed to the development
of Community Response Plans
The Panel’s finding regarding ecosystem recovery following a large spill is based on extensive scientific evidence filed by many parties, including information on recovery of the environment from large past spill events such as the Exxon Valdez
oil spill. The Panel notes that different parties sometimes referred to the same studies on environmental recovery after oil spills, and drew different conclusions. In its consideration of natural recovery of the environment, the Panel focused
on effects that are more readily measurable such as population level impacts, harvest levels, or established environmental quality criteria such as
water and sediment quality criteria.
The Panel finds that the evidence indicates that ecosystems will recover over time after a spill and that the post-spill ecosystem will share functional attributes of the pre-spill one. Postspill ecosystems may not be identical to pre-spill ecosystems. Certain ecosystem components may continue to show effects, and residual oil
may remain in some locations. In certain unlikely circumstances, the Panel finds that a localized population or species could potentially be permanently affected by an oil spill. Scientific studies after the Exxon Valdez spill indicated that the vast majority of species recovered following the spill and that functioning ecosystems, similar
to those existing pre-spill, were established.
Species for which recovery is not fully apparent, such as Pacific herring, killer whales, and pigeon guillemots, appear to have been affected by other
environmental factors or human influences not associated with the oil spill. Insufficient pre-spill baseline data on these species contributed to
difficulties in determining the extent of spill effects.
Based on the evidence, the Panel finds that natural recovery of the aquatic environment after an oil spill is likely to be the primary recovery
mechanism, particularly for marine spills. Both freshwater and marine ecosystem recovery is further mitigated where cleanup is possible, effective, and beneficial to the environment.
Natural processes that degrade oil would begin immediately following a spill. Although residual oil could remain buried in sediments for years, the Panel finds that toxicity associated with that oil would decline over time and would not cause
widespread, long-term impacts.

The Panel finds that Northern Gateway’s commitment to use human interventions,
including available spill response technologies, would mitigate spill impacts to ecosystems and assist in species recovery. Many parties expressed concerns about potential short-term and long-term spill effects on resources that they use or depend on, such as drinking water, clams, herring, seaweed, and fish. The weight of
evidence indicates that these resources recover relatively rapidly following a large oil spill.

For example, following the Selendang Ayu and Exxon Valdez spills in Alaska, fin fish were found, through food safety testing programs, to be safe to eat. Food safety closures for species such as mussels, urchins, and crabs were lifted within 1 to
2 years following the spills.
The actual time frame for recovery would depend on the circumstances of the spill. Until harvestable resources recover, various measures are typically put in place, such as compensation,harvest restrictions or closures, and provision of
alternative supply.
It is difficult to define recovery of the human environment because people’s perceptions and values are involved. This was made clear to the
Panel through oral statements and oral evidence.
The Panel finds that oil spills would cause disruptions in people’s lives, especially those people who depend on the marine environment for sustenance, commercial activities and other uses. The extent and magnitude of this disruption
would depend on the specific circumstances associated with the spill. The Panel views recovery of the socio-economic environment as the time when immediate impacts and interruption to people’s lives are no longer evident, and the
natural resources upon which people depend are available for use and consumption.
The Panel heard that assessing the potential recovery time of the environment is often complicated by challenges in separating background or unrelated events from spill-related effects. There can be natural variation in species populations,
and other natural and human-induced effects can also make it difficult to determine which impacts are spill-related and which are not.
The Panel notes that Northern Gateway has committed to collect baseline data and gather baseline information on harvest levels and values through initiatives such as its Environmental Effects Monitoring Program, Fisheries Liaison
Committee, and traditional harvest studies. The Panel finds that these commitments go beyond regulatory requirements and are necessary. This information would contribute to assessments of spill effects on resource harvesting values,
post-spill environmental recovery, and loss and liability determinations.
The Panel is of the view that it is not possible to predict a specific time in which overall recovery of the environment may occur. The time for recovery would depend on the type and volume of product spilled, environmental conditions,
the success of oil spill response and cleanup measures, and the extent of exposure of living and non-living components of the environment to the product spilled. Recovery of living and non-living components of the environment would
occur over different time frames ranging from weeks, to years, and in the extreme, decades.
Even within the same environmental component, recovery may occur over different time frames depending on local factors such as geographic location, the amount of oiling, success of cleanup, and amount of natural degradation.
Based on the physical and chemical characteristics described for the diluted bitumen to be shipped and the fate and transport modelling conducted, the Panel finds that stranded oil on shorelines would not be uniformly distributed on
shorelines and that heavy oiling would be limited to specific shoreline areas. The Panel accepts Northern Gateway’s prediction that spilled dilbit could persist longer in sheltered areas, resulting in longer consumption advisories for intertidal
communities and associated invertebrates than in more open areas.

Based on the scientific evidence, the Panel accepts the results of the
chronic risk assessment that predicted no significant risks to marine life due to oil deposition in the subtidal sediments.
For potential terrestrial and marine spills, the Panel does not view reversibility as a reasonable measure against which to predict ecosystem recovery. No ecosystem is static and it is unlikely that an ecosystem will return to exactly the same
state following any natural or human induced disruption. Based on the evidence and the Panel’s technical expertise, it has evaluated whether or not functioning ecosystems are likely to return after a spill. Requiring Northern Gateway to
collect baseline data would provide important information to compare ecosystem functions before and after any potential spill.

The Panel finds that Northern Gateway’s ecological and human health risk assessment models and techniques were conducted using conservative assumptions and state of the art models. Combined with information from past spill events, these assessments provided sufficient information to inform the Panel’s deliberation on
the extent and severity of potential environmental effects. The Panel finds that this knowledge was incorporated in Northern Gateway’s spill prevention strategies and spill preparedness and response planning. Although the ecological risk assessment
models used by Northern Gateway may not replicate all possible environmental conditions or effects, the spill simulations conducted by Northern Gateway provided a useful indication of the potential range of consequences of large oil spills in
complex natural environments.

First Nations historical herring harvest offers “deep time perspective” to modern managers, SFU study says

SFU archaeologists
Iain McKechnie and Dana Lepofsky examine ancient herring fish bones that tell the story about how gigantic herring fisheries were for thousands of years in the Pacific Northwest. (SFU)

The herring, now dwindling on on the Pacific Coast, was once “superabundant” from Washington State through British Columbia to Alaska and that is a warning for the future, a new study says.

A team of scientists lead by Simon Fraser University argue that the archaeological record on the Pacific Coast offers a “deep time perspective” going back ten thousand years that can be a guide for future management of the herring and other fish species.

An archaeological study looked at 171 First Nations’ sites from Washington to Alaska and recovered and analyzed 435,777 fish bones from various species.

Herring bones were the most abundant and dating shows that herring abundance can be traced from about 10,700 years ago to about the mid-nineteenth century with the arrival of Europeans and the adoption of industrial harvesting methods by both settlers and some First Nations.

That means herring were perhaps the greatest food source for First Nations for ten thousand years surpassing the “iconic salmon.” Herring bones were the most frequent at 56 per cent of the sites surveyed and made up for 49 per cent of the bones at sites overall.

The study was published online Monday, February 17, 2014, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Simon Fraser University researchers Iain McKechnie, Dana Lepofsky and Ken Lertzman, and scientists in Ontario, Alberta and the United States are its co-authors.

The study is one of many initiatives of the SFU-based Herring School, a group of researchers that investigates the cultural and ecological importance of herring.

“By compiling the largest data set of archaeological fish bones in the Pacific Northwest Coast, we demonstrate the value of using such data to establish an ecological baseline for modern fisheries,” says Iain McKechnie. The SFU archaeology postdoctoral fellow is the study’s lead author and a recent University of British Columbia graduate.

Co-author and SFU archaeology professor Dana Lepofsky states: “Our archaeological findings fit well with what First Nations have been telling us. Herring have always played a central role in the social and economic lives of coastal communities. Archaeology, combined with oral traditions, is a powerful tool for understanding coastal ecology prior to industrial development.”

The researchers drew from their ancient data-catch concrete evidence that long-ago herring populations were consistently abundant and widespread for thousands of years. This contrasts dramatically with today’s dwindling and erratic herring numbers.

“This kind of ecological baseline extends into the past well beyond the era of industrial fisheries. It is critical for understanding the ecological and cultural basis of coastal fisheries and designing sustainable management systems today,” says Ken Lertzman, another SFU co-author. The SFU School of Resource and Environmental Management professor directs the Hakai Network for Coastal People, Ecosystems and Management.

Map of First Nations sites with fish bones
Map of First Nations’ archaeological sites with high numbers of fish bones. Herring is abundant in sites throughout the Strait of Georgia. In 71% of sites, herring makes up at least 20 per cent of the bones found at the site. (SFU/PNAS)

Heiltsuk tradition

The paper says that the abundance of herring is additionally mirrored in First Nations’ place
names and origin narratives. They give the example of the 2,400-y-old site at Nulu where herring
made up about 85 per cent of the fish found in local middens. In Heiltsuk oral tradition, it is Nulu where Raven first found herring. Another site, 25 kilometres away at the Koeye River, has only has about 10 per cent herring remains and is not associated with herring in Heiltsuk tradition.

(In an e-mail to Northwest Coast Energy News, McKechnie said “there is a paucity of archaeological data from Kitimat and Douglas Channel. There is considerable data from around Prince Rupert, the Dundas Islands and on the central coast Namu/Bella Bella/ Rivers Inlet area and in southern Haida Gwaii.”)

The study says that the archaeological record indicates that places with abundant herring were consistently harvested over time, and suggests that the areas where herring massed or spawned were more extensive and less variable in the past than today. It says that even if there were natural variations in the herring population, the First Nations harvest did not affect the species overall.

It notes:

Many coastal groups maintained family-owned locations for harvesting herring and herring roe from anchored kelp fronds, eel grass, or boughs of hemlock or cedar trees. Herring was harvested at other times of the year than the spawning period when massing in local waters but most ethnohistorical observations identify late winter and springtime spawning as a key period of harvest for both roe and fish.

The herring and herring roe were either consumed or traded among the First Nations.

Sustainable harvests encouraged by building kelp gardens,wherein some roe covered fronds were not collected, by minimizing noise and movement during spawning events, and by elaborate systems of kin-based rights and responsibilities that regulated herring use and distribution.

Industrial harvesting

Industrial harvesting and widespread consumption changed all that. Large numbers of herring were harvested to for rendering to oil or meal. By 1910, the problem was already becoming clear. In that year British Columbia prohibited the reduction of herring for oil and fertilizer. There were reports at that time that larger bays on the Lower Mainland were “being gradually deserted by the larger schools where they were formerly easily obtained.”

But harvesting continued, in 1927 the fishery on eastern Vancouver Island, Columbia, processed
31,103 tons of herring. The SFU study notes that that is roughly twice the harvest rate for 2012 and would also be about 38 per cent of the current herring biomass in the Strait of Georgia.
In Alaska, reduction of herring began in 1882 and reached a peak of 75,000 tons in 1929.

As the coastal populations dwindled, as with other fisheries, the emphasis moved to deeper water. By the 1960s, the herring populations of British Columbia and Washington had collapsed. Canada banned herring reduction entirely in 1968, Washington followed in the early 1980s.

In the 1970s, the herring population off Japan collapsed, which opened up the demand for North American roe, which targeted female herring as they were ready to spawn. That further reduced the herring population so that the roe fishery is now limited to just a few areas including parts of the Salish Sea and off Sitka and Togiak, Alaska.

The First Nations food, social and ceremonial herring fishery continues.

Government fishery managers, scientists, and local and indigenous peoples lack consensus on the cumulative consequences of ongoing commercial fisheries on herring populations. Many First Nations, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and other local fishers, based on personal observations and traditional knowledge, hypothesize that local herring stocks, on which they consistently relied for generations, have been dramatically reduced and made more difficult to access following 20th century industrial fishing

Deep time perspective

The SFU study says that some fisheries managers are suggesting that the herring population has just shifted to other locations and other causes may be climate change and the redounding of predator populations.

But the study concludes, that:

Our data support the idea that if past populations of Pacific herring exhibited substantial variability, then this variability was expressed around a high enough mean abundance such that there was adequate herring available for indigenous fishers to sustain their harvests but avoid the extirpation of local populations.

These records thus demonstrate a fishery that was sustainable at local and regional scales over millennia, and a resilient relationship between harvesters, herring, and environmental change that has been absent in the modern era.

Archaeological data have the potential to provide a deep time perspective on the interaction between humans and the resources on which they depend.

Furthermore, the data can contribute significantly toward developing temporally meaningful ecological baselines that avoid the biases of shorter-term records.

Other universities participating in the study were the University of British Columbia, University of Oregon, Portland State University, Lakehead University, University of Toronto, Rutgers University and the University of Alberta.



BC First Nations Opposition to Commercial Herring Fisheries supported by DFO

Fisheries minister ignored advice from own scientists

Oil spill caused “unexpected lethal impact” on herring, study shows