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.

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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)

Haisla chief counsellor Ellis Ross on the dilemma of climate change and development

Haisla Nation Chief Counsellor spoke at Mt. Elizabeth Theatre on June 9, 2015, introducing David Suzuki who was on a speaking tour. This is a lightly edited report on his remarks that outline some of the dilemmas facing the Haisla and the Kitimat valley in an age that needs development but faces climate change.

Good evening.

Among chiefs, I am elected, not hereditary, you are born into that position, I wasn’t born into it.

I am basically a regular commoner just like you guys with a high school education and one year of college and a lot of experience outside my community that I bring back.

These topics about climate change locally, provincially, nationally and worldwide, they’re complicated topics.

Haisla Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross speaks at Mt. Elizabeth Theatre,  June 9, 2015 (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Haisla Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross speaks at Mt. Elizabeth Theatre, June 9, 2015 (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

There’s no one true fix for all of it. The problem is that the Haisla have been thrust into the middle of it and we have to answer it, which is very unfair.

So when we’re talking about what really is a Haisla value, a west coast, a British Columbia value. I must tell you I value the Haisla people, my people, that land, the territory, I think about the Haisla people because I don’t think anyone has given the Haisla people a priority in the last 40 to 50 years.

All the decisions that were made about Haisla territory, that affected out people, were made without us.

The result was that we ended up with 80 per cent unemployment, historically over the last 40 years we have ended up with cancer and we can’t get rid of it.

Poverty, people couldn’t get enough money to fix their bathrooms when the floor was rotting out.

The saying is that you can always tell when the reserve starts is when the pavement ends is true. Unless there’s a political agenda to actually pave the road to the village. The environmental questions that have been raised over the past ten years are not new to the Haisla.

In the 70s it was the Haisla alone who tried to battle emissions when nobody even knew what emissions meant. They tried to stop the effluent dumping into the river that killed off the river they tried to stop the diking of the river so parts of the land could be protected, parks.

When the Haisla knew that the oolichan that was estimated to be hundreds of thousands of tons, were dying off quickly in the span of five years. Nobody listened.
Now the DFO and Canada is realizing that the demise of the oolichan is a signal that something is wrong with the ecosystem.

I would love that someone would come around to the idea of thanking the Haisla people for all the work that they did and went and unheard even in meetings like this today.

And we’re not even talking about salmon.
In all this time, I’ve read all the documents, all the speeches and listened to all the promises of a better tomorrow for all the people but nobody delivered it.

Countless academic papers have been written about Indian poverty.

Nothing was done.

Non-profit organizations used the Haisla to further their cause and left town when they had achieved what they had achieved.

At the same time all the decisions continued to be made without us. And everybody benefited except us.

What happened in the end and the corporations made their billions and made enough money to pay off the mortgage and move down south, the Haisla were left with the mess to clean up. Today we’re still battling to get some of these sites cleaned up and we’re still not getting help.

I don’t blame anyone for this. Whether you’re am environmental organization, a government or a corporation or a non-profit organization, I don’t blame you for this because you have a mandate, you have a special interest. That’s what you’re trying to achieve.

I have a mandate. I do have an organization now that is fully equipped to look at every single permit that comes from the provincial government and the federal government and try to mitigate it given our capacity and our lack of funding.

But some of that benefit has to flow to the Haisla people. It’s our territory.

When you think about what has happened to us, the Haisla, we think about residential schools and I’ve been reading the debate on whether or not it’s genocide or not and I think people are missing the point.

Residential schools were only 10 per cent of a larger program to get rid of the Indian.

The ninety per cent was what was stolen from us as well. The land was taken away and we were put on a chunk of land across the Channel, that was described by the Indian Agent as worthless, it’s not even good for agriculture so give it to the Indians. We had to get permission from the federal government to leave that reserve. We had to get a piece of paper that said he’s allowed to leave the reserve and go pick berries.

We also have had no help other than some academic programs and some sort of study to deal with our suicides. I’m not just talking Haisla here. I really thought that one suicide every five years was really a bad thing. But finding out that my neighbors down the road from here to Prince George are dealing with ten suicides in the first quarter of this year.

It breaks my heart.

Who is responsible for that? If it’s not the government, if it’s not the non-profits, if it’s not corporations, who is it?

I stepped up and said I’ll take full responsibility for this but that means I have a hard message to deliver and I will deliver it on behalf of the Haisla people.

When it comes to climate change, we are living at a very unfortunate time, because finally we’re accepted at the provincial table, at the federal table, the corporate table.

We’re being included but unfortunately, we have to look at climate change as well. It’s a very tough position to be in when you’ve got a Grade 12 education from 1984 and one year of college education in 1985.

It’s a very tough topic, I can tell you. I’ve been to China, I’ve been to Korea and no matter what you say about the emissions there, Canada and BC have no problems with emissions here until you visit China.

They’re not going to get off crude oil, they’re not going to get off diesel fuel, they’re not going to give up coal because a billion people there want the same standard of living that you have in Canada. And I’m talking about India as well. They want the same standard. They want good houses; they want to own a car. They are not going to stop their thirst for energy.

I don’t have the answers.

I still believe that natural gas is a lot cleaner than coal and even if you put a small dent in it, it’s not enough to get these guys off nuclear power.

And the solar power you’re talking about, they do it for show but that’s not going to meet the energy needs of China. We’re not even talking about India; we’re not even talking about Korea.

You say can you help get China off dirty fuel, but all their pollution keeps getting dumped on South Korea.

I represent 1700 people, how am I going to do that?

We’re being asked to do a near impossible task while I’m trying to dig my people out of poverty. At the same time, when we get this opportunity we’re giving our members very mixed messages, including our young people which is heart breaking for me.

Because we’re telling them get an education, don’t be a burden on society, get a job, but by the way there are no jobs here, there’s no way to get into existing industries so you better go to the oil fields of Alberta to get a job. A lot of our people head over there or to Vancouver.

I’ve been following this debate on climate change for quite a while now, for over six years. I’ve been listening to everybody, I’ve been listening to corporations, being listening to governments, been listening to non-profits, but on behalf of the Haisla Nation Council, I’m here to tell you, that when it comes to the future of the Haisla I have very little patience with this. I don’t want to see another essay about what to do about Indian suicides.

I believe that our people are being sick and tired of being left out and left behind, while everyone else is moving on with their lives. I do want to what’s best for the region I do want to do what’s best for the province and Canada and the world. But I will not do it at the expense of the Haisla people. We’ve been at the dirty end of the tick for the last 40 years. It’s going to stop. Thank you very much and enjoy your evening.