BC 2012 halibut quota drops 8 per cent, as Canada protests devastation caused by pollock trawl in Gulf of Alaska “nursery”

The International Pacific Halibut Commission has recommended a Canadian harvest quota for the 2012 season of 7.038 million pounds of halibut, a decrease of eight per cent from the 2011 quota of 7.650 million pounds.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has yet to confirm the quota but it routinely follows the IPHC recommendation.

The reduction was not as bad as first feared. The commission staff were recommending a B.C coast quota of 6.633 million pounds, a decrease of 16 per cent.

The overall harvest quota decrease for the Pacific coast is 18.3 per cent, due to continuing concerns about the state of the halibut biomass.

The 2012 halibut season is much narrower, opening on March 17 and closing on November 7. The commission says the March 17 opening day was chosen because it is a Saturday and will help the marketing by both commercial and recreational fishers. The earlier November date will allow better assessment of the halibut stock after the 2012 season, according to an IPHC news release. (In Canada, DFO closed the recreational season much earlier than the date recommended by the IPHC, in September, while allowing the commercial harvest to continue.)

In the release following the annual meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, last week, the IPHC said

The Commission has expressed concern over continued declining catch rates in several areas and has taken aggressive action to reduce harvests. In addition, the staff has noted a continuing problem of reductions in previous estimates of biomass as additional data are obtained, which has the effect of increasing the realized historical harvest rates on the stock. Commission scientists will be conducting additional research on this matter in 2012….

The Commission faced very difficult decisions on the appropriate harvest from the stock and recognized the economic impact of the reduced catch limits recommended by its scientific staff. However, the Commission believes that conservation of the halibut resource is the most important management objective and will serve the best economic interests of the industry over the long term. Accordingly, catch limits adopted for 2012 were lower in all regions of the stock except Areas 2A (California, Oregon and Washington) and 2C (southeastern Alaska)

Pollock trawl bycatch crisis costs Canada $7 million a year

In the bureaucratic language of the IPHC, “The Commission expressed its continued concern about the yield and spawning biomass losses to the halibut stock from mortality of halibut in non-directed fisheries.”

The  IPHC says that British Columbia has made “significant progress” in reducing bycatch mortality and that quotas for vessels for other fish are being monitored, in California, Oregon and Washington have also had some success in reducing bycatch mortality.

It says that “Reductions have also occurred in Alaska, and new measures aimed at improving bycatch estimation, scheduled to begin in 2013, will help to refine these estimates.”

That phrase apparently masks a major problem of bycatch in the halibut nurseries off Alaska.

Craig Medred writing in the Alaska Dispatch in Should Alaska have protected halibut nursery waters noted that the Canadian delegation took a strong stand at the meetings:

Canada has protested that something needs to be done about the trawl industry [mostly for pollock] killing and dumping 10 million pounds of halibut off Alaska’s coast, but the International Pacific Halibut Commission proved powerless to do anything about it.
Meeting [last] week in Anchorage, the commission recognized the trawl catch as a potential problem, but then placed the burden of conservation squarely on the shoulders of commercial longliners along the Pacific Coast from Alaska south to California. The Commission again endorsed staff recommendations to shrink the catches of those fishermen in an effort to avoid an ever-shrinking population of adult halibut.

(This wasn’t reported in the Canadian media despite the importance of halibut both commercial and recreational to the economy of British Columbia. No Canadian media covered the IPHC conference in Alaska, despite the fact that halibut was a major issue in BC in the last federal election)

Medred’s report in the Alaska Dispatch goes on to say that the scientists say the Pacific Ocean is full of juvenile halibut, but that the juveniles seem to be disappearing before they reach spawning age (when the halibut reaches about the 32 inch catch minimum). “How much of this is due to immature fish being caught, killed and wasted by the billion-dollar pollock trawl fishery — which is in essence strip mining the Gulf of Alaska — is unknown.”

Medred says, “Scientists, commercial halibut fishermen and anglers all believe the catch is under-reported. Advisers to the commission — a U.S.-Canada treaty organization — indicated they are beyond frustrated with the bycatch issue.”

The official IPHC Bluebook report to the annual meeting said: “Not all fisheries are observed, therefore bycatch rates and discard mortality rates from similar fisheries are used to calculate bycatch mortality in unobserved fisheries.”

The official report to the IPHC gives one reason that the bycatch in Canadian waters is not as big a problem, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans ongoing monitoring of almost all commercial fisheries for bycatch.

But Canada is not satisfied with that and has submitted a formal proposal to the Commission to designate the Gulf of Alaska, “‘an area of special concern.” because the halibut that spawn in the Gulf of Alaska migrate to coastal British Columbia.

The Alaska Dispatch report says that the Canadian delegation told the IPHC: “Canada should not and must not be penalized for uncontrolled bycatch in other regulatory (areas), which IPHC staff have indicated could be costing (Canada) approximately 1 million pounds of lost yield in each year based on current, and what Canada believes may be questionable, estimates of bycatch.”

Medred says that one million pounds of halibut equals a loss of $7 million to Canadian fishermen alone.


IPHC news release, Jan. 31, 2012  (pdf)

International Pacific Halibut Commission confirms 18 per cent cut in overall quota for 2012

According to Alaska media reports, the International Pacific Halibut Commission, meeting in Anchorage, has confirmed an over all  cut in Pacific halibut harvest quota of 18 per cent, or 7.5 million pounds for 2012.

KMXT, an NPR station in Kodiak, Alaska reports 

 Area 3A, the Gulf of Alaska will experience a 17-percent reduction from last year. That results in a 11.9-million pound catch limit, down 2.4-million pounds.

Area 3B along the Alaska Peninsula southwest of Kodiak Island, the reduction is the same 2.4-million pounds, but the percentage reduction is 32 percent, down to just over 5-million pounds. In Area 4A, the eastern Aleutians, the cut is 35 percent.

The only areas that did not get reductions were off the Washington coast in Area 2A, which will get a 9-percent increase, and Area 2C in Southeast Alaska, which will get a 13 percent bump, up almost 300,000 pounds.

There are no figures in the Alaska reports for British Columbia and no news on the International Pacific Halibut Commission website.


More to come
Related: Recreational halibut quota buy-in program had “limited success:” DFO report to IPHC

Recreational halibut quota buy-in program had “limited success:” DFO report to IPHC

International Pacific Halibut Commission A report prepared by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for this week’s meeting of the International Pacific Halibut Commission in Anchorage says the controversial program where recreational fishers could buy quota from commercial fishers had only “limited success…with few pounds caught.”

The report also says that Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield will be making a “decision on any changes to the current allocation plan in advance of the 2012 fishing season.”

The IPHC report says:

For the 2011 season only, DFO implemented an experimental leasing program, where interested recreational fishers could receive experimental licenses that would allow them to lease halibut quota from commercial quota holders and allow continued sport fishing after the general sport fish closure. The program allowed for a market-based transfer system and provided the recreational sector access to fish outside their management allocation. The program had limited success with 4,000 pounds transferred with few pounds caught.

Later in the report, the IPHC says that DFO did not release to the commission the exact figures for halibut caught under the pilot project.

According to the report, once again the recreational catch exceeded its assigned quota. DFO provided a preliminary 2011 sport catch estimate of 1.220 million pounds, which exceeded the sport fishery allocation by 272,000 pounds (29%). Canada overall also exceeded its halibut quota. The report says “The total Area 2B catch of 7.87 million pounds was 3% over the combined total catch limit (7.65 million pounds).” The commercial fishery came in slightly under quota, “less than one per cent,” according to the report. Any difference can be allocated to the First Nations Food, Social and Ceremonial Fishery.

The IPHC says that DFO anticipated the controversial early closure of the recreational fishery. The report says: “The season was the shortest on record, opening on March 1 and closing on September 5. In August, DFO projected that the sport allocation would be reached before the usual December 31 season closing date, so an early closure was not unexpected.”

Although there are no figures to prove it, it is likely the decision by the recreational fishers to boycott the program was one reason for the “few pounds” caught as part of the pilot project.

The pilot project announced a year ago, and only for 2011, was intended by DFO as pilot project to get additional quota for recreational halibut fishers and guides from the commercial fishery. The announcement, however, brought anger and demonstrations across British Columbia by the recreational fishery. The halibut allocation dispute was a key issue in most BC coastal ridings during the May election, but wasn’t decisive enough to defeat Conservative candidates such as John Duncan in Vancouver Island North, who kept his seat in a very close vote.

The IPHC opens its annual meeting on Tuesday, January 24, 2012, and concludes on Friday, January 27. The IPHC meeting will also consider recommendations for drastic cuts in halibut quotas all along the western coast of North America for the 2012 season, due to uncertainty about the long term health of the biomass.

The IPHC recommends a total west coast quota of 33.135 million pounds for 2012, a decrease of approximately 19% from 2011. The recommended season will run from March 15 to November 15. It says “This recommendation is a compromise between minimizing interceptions of migrating fish and providing opportunity for market presence of fish wild halibut.”

The proposed quota for British Columbia area 2B is 6,633,000 pounds, down 13.3%. The IPHC staff paper recommends that current Canadian policy of 88 per cent for commercial and 12 per cent for recreational halibut be continued. Recreational fishers and guides have objected to that quota for the past several years.

One of the major problems facing the halibut fishery along the west coast, according to the report, is the large number of undersized females in the total biomass. Any large catch of immature females would have drastic long term consequences on the halibut stock and therefore the halibut fishery.

A staff paper to be considered at the meeting calls for reconsideration of the minimum allowable size, balancing a suggestion to catch more immature males while maintaining the female stock until it can mature and produce a new generation.

Any announcement of a new Canadian policy by Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield will be based on a 2011 long review of the Pacific halibut allocation that looked at the long-term options for allocation with objectives of conservation, economic prosperity, and flexibility. The review process included meetings with policy makers, stakeholders, and sector representatives.

You can retrieve the complete IPHC Annual Meeting Blue Book here.

Editor’s note: A slight change in editorial perspective for Northwest Coast Energy News

When I founded Northwest Coast Energy News last May, I said at that time that I would follow the general policy of many councils, groups and organizations in northwestern British Columbia of a strictly neutral stance on the issue of the Northern Gateway Pipeline.

It has become apparent in the past few weeks that a strictly neutral stance is no longer possible. It is probably clear from anyone reading this site that, based in Kitimat, this site has a northwestern British Columbia perspective. So that is now the official policy of this site.

It seems that all the arguments from most of the media and now even an Ottawa think tank have decided that Alberta’s interest in bitumen pipeline development is equivalent to the national interest. It is not a breach of neutrality to ask whether the interests of one province are more important than those of another.

From the first two weeks of testimony in the Joint Review Hearings it is clear that a large majority of people in this part of the province believe that Ottawa and Alberta will completely override the interests and fears of the people of northwestern BC.  Thus there is a need for a site that covers the interests of this region.

There are many people in the northwest who have voiced various degrees of support for the Northern Gateway Pipeline. However, speak to them, as I have, and they all say something like “provided Enbridge fulfills its promises for safety of the pipelines and the tankers.”  Here the site’s neutrality will be maintained but in respect for all sides, it will continue to question the motives and promises from the oil-patch.

Are the promises from Enbridge valid and, if the pipeline is actually built, will future management of Enbridge keep those promises?  (Given corporate history in the energy field and elsewhere of management ignoring the promises of their predecessors, this is perhaps the biggest question of all.)

There is a  constant refrain from the conservative media and the government that “foreigners” have hijacked the hearings.

It’s easy for those who live thousands of kilometres from here, have never been here, who have never bothered study this part of the country or speak to the people, both First Nations and non-First Nations, to demonize northwestern BC.  That might be good wedge issue politics, but they forgot that the pipeline has to be built across this land. In the long run, if it is to be built, that would require not just cooperation, but enthusiastic cooperation from everyone. So far, if the Joint Review hearings are any indication, there isn’t even lukewarm cooperation in the offing, rather fierce opposition.

The hearings in Smithers and Burns Lake last week both went into overtime. First Nations leaders at the Burns Lake hearings angrily complained that elders who had come through (and were delayed by)  a snow storm were not permitted to speak.  The JRP assured them that they would make special arrangements for the elders to speak when the panel returns in the future for the ten minute comments. So much for hijacking the hearings.

Speaking of snow, it’s been snowing non-stop in the northwest for the past four days.  It’s still snowing.  As witnesses at the Kitamaat Village hearing pointed out, it’s not easy to find a leak in a pipeline under three or more metres of snow. For the past few days, DriveBC has been issuing warnings for the highways in the region, highways that are well-maintained and cleared. The logging roads and access roads, which would be needed to get to a pipeline just for maintenance, much for less for stopping a breach, of course, are covered in the three metres or more of snow that has fallen in the past four days (on top of all the snow that has fallen since November)

For the past several days, (in fact for most of January)  marine radio has been sending “hurricane force wind” warnings for the coast, especially in Hecate Strait.

Speaking of hurricane force winds, last week the Costa  Concordia, a $450 million cruise ship with all the latest navigation equipment, the same kind promised by Enbridge that the tankers will carry, went off course, hit a rock off a small island and capsized in calm weather under the command of what was likely a rogue captain.

All of this ignored in Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa. The vast majority of people who are intervenors and who have signed up for the 10 minute comments live in the path of the pipeline, yet the commentariat concentrate, conveniently on “green radicals” and “foreigners.”  Again good wedge politics, but bad long term policy.

There have been suggestions that by the Macdonald-Laurier think tank in the person of Brian Lee Crowley that the beliefs and values can be solved with the political process.

Even if we ignore that fact that the government of Stephen Harper has, in many cases, open disdain for those who are not conservative, we have to question how much political influence northern BC has, no matter what the government.

The one riding most affected by all this is Skeena-Bulkley Valley, one of the largest ridings by land area, and smallest by population, in Canada. Even those who support the Northern Gateway pipeline, in one way or another, have little faith in Ottawa.  Take such ongoing issues such as the export of raw logs or the way much of the recreational halibut season this year was wiped out by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which appears to favour corporate commercial fishers over small recreational operations.  The Harper government wants hundreds of super tankers sailing up and down the west coast and coming up Douglas Channel, and yet the same government is cutting Coast Guard and DFO resources to the bone. (The official Canadian Coast Guard response time for an incident in Douglas Channel now is eight hours.  That is likely to increase with the cutbacks. The Italian Coast Guard responded to the Costa Concordia sinking in minutes.)

Even when the northwest asks the Harper government to support energy development (in this case LNG) by stationing Canada Border Services at Terrace Kitimat airport so foreign executives won’t have to land at Abbotsford first, costing them time and jet fuel, the government in the person of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews gives the northwest a not so polite brush off.

One piece of advice to Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa.  If you really want that pipeline, you’d better stop demonizing the people most affected (some of whom support the pipeline but are tarred with the same brush). That “vociferous minority” is actually a majority here.

The late American congressman Tip O’Neill is often quoted when he said “all politics is local.”

Since Ottawa, at this point, wants Alberta local politics to trump northwestern BC local politics on the pipeline issue, that means we are living in very interesting times.

That is why this site will continue to cover the issues involved as completely as time allows, from the perspective of northwestern British Columbia.








Analysis: The collapse of BC’s oil rich economy is a lesson for BC, Alberta and the world


British Columbia once had the richest, longest-lasting, sustainable oil economy on the planet.

That’s almost all gone now. While the environmental movement loves to quote Joni Mitchell’s “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone,” the collapse of BC’s oil economy is perhaps the best example in history of what Mitchell meant in her song. Big Yellow Taxi.

British Columbia even supplied much-needed oil to Alberta.

The collapse of that oil economy is a cautionary tale for BC in the debate over the Northern Gateway pipeline. That’s because a pipeline breach near a key river or a tanker disaster on the BC coast would kill the last remnants of a commodity that made BC oil-rich for thousands of years.

The collapse of that oil economy is a lesson for Alberta and for the entire world.

It should be a lesson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Natural Resources minister Joe Oliver and Environment minister Peter Kent, but it’s one that they will ignore.

The collapse of that oil economy is a lesson that should be taught ( but isn’t) by the departments of economics, business and politics at oil-patch academic central, the University of Calgary, which trained Stephen Harper and produces those self-satisfied commentators who can’t see anything beyond the Rockies and their own pet economic theories.

The collapse of the BC oil economy is proof that Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” much loved of conservative economists is actually a deathly hallow in the hands of all those who are too greedy to care or who don’t bother to see what is actually in front of their blinkered eyes.

Much of the testimony at the Northern Gateway Joint Review hearings at the Haisla Recreation Centre on Tuesday, January 10, 2012, was about that economic collapse. Much of the testimony in Terrace, at the Sportsplex, on Thursday, January 12, 2012, was about that economic collapse.

The national and international media that came to cover that story didn’t realize what they were hearing. Only a couple of stories mentioned the ancient oil economy in BC but just in passing. It is probable that the members of the Joint Review Panel didn’t understand either, but it may be by the end of the hearings, once the panel has heard the story over and over, they may begin to realize how important it is.

(That is one reason that all the testimony before the Joint Review Panel is important. It’s the old story of hitting the donkey over the head with the two by four. The conservatives in the government, in the universities and the media who say repeat testimony isn’t needed are wrong. Sometimes a story has to be told numerous times before the powers that be realize, hey this is important. )

This isn’t about petroleum.

Nor is it about salmon oil or whale oil.

It’s about a small, some say ugly (compared to the magnificent sockeye salmon), member of the smelt family, a very distant relative of the salmon, the oolichan.

(There are several spellings. Euclachon is the usual academic spelling. One rare spelling is “hooligan.” That’s the one that spell checks and auto corrects prefer. Oolichan is the preferred spelling on the northwest coast, and thus that is what this article will use).

It was trade in oolichan oil and oolichan grease that sustained that economy in what is now British Columbia for thousands of years before the coming of Europeans.

Oolichan poster
Poster celebrating the oolichan released by artist Roy Henry Vickers

Trade in oolichan oil and oolichan grease created the “grease trails,” the trading routes leading from coastal British Columbia throughout the province and across the Rockies into Alberta.

Drive many of the highways in northern British Columbia and, like other parts of North America, where highways follow “Indian trails,” you are likely driving on a grease trail.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the grease trails, the trade in oolichan oil and grease may have begun as early as 5,000 years ago. By 2,000 years ago, the First Nations of British Columbia had a vibrant trading culture, with goods exchanged throughout the province, south to what is now the United States and north to Alaska.

Just as trade and industry in the Old World prompted the creation of infrastructure, the oolichan trade blazed trails and lead to technological developments such as suspension bridges and improved canoes.

The culture of BC First Nations has been disrupted for the past two centuries by smallpox and other diseases, creation of the reserves, by government and church paternalism, by the assimilation of the Indian Act, by residential schools and general acculturation. Despite those horrendous challenges, the oolichan-based trade has, left a multi-millenial legacy of expertise in trade negotiations. That is one factor in the current debate over the Northern Gateway pipeline. Ignorance of history is why the oil-patch and the Harper government have underestimated the First Nations in the current controversy.

Rich fish of the Pacific

The oolichan’s scientific name is Thaleichthys pacificus, “rich fish of the Pacific,” with oil making up to 15 per cent of its body content. That was the source of the rich oil economy.

Another name for the oolichan is “candle fish,” because often a dried oolichan was used as a candle by early European settlers.

The Gitxsan First Nation, now embroiled in a dispute after one chief signed a deal with Enbridge, traditionally called the oolichan the “fish for curing humanity.”

Oolichan grease/oil is rich in omega and other oils now in demand around the world. It is likely that the oolichan grease/oil countered the tendency to depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder caused by the rainy, overcast climate of coastal British Columbia, since omega oils are now recommended as anti-depressant.

Oolichan (James Crippen photo via Wikipedia Commons)

Properly managed, renewable in a way whale oil could never be, the oolichan could have been a multi-billion dollar industry, providing wealth to First Nations and export dollars for all of modern British Columbia.

It never happened.

When the Europeans arrived in British Columbia, they ignored the knowledge of the First Nations, ignored the oolichan. First the economic attraction was the sea otter, then it was the forests and the salmon, and then mining and hydro-electric developments. All the time the oolichan was out of sight and out of mind and becoming collateral damage of other industrial development.

The Kitimat River was one of the richest sources of that rich oolichan oil resource.

Samuel Robinson
Samuel Robinson

Haisla Chief Samuel Robinson, who is 78, told the Joint Review Panel: “We used to fish… for oolichans which is now no more because of pollution in the river for the last 30 years. But the river is not dead yet. The salmon still go up there; that’s why we have to protect it. I know we can’t do much about the oohlicans now, but the salmon still go up there.

“Up the river, we spend our days there, harvesting oohlicans. In my childhood days, you didn’t need a net, you didn’t need hook, and you didn’t need anything. You can pick the oohlicans out of the water. In fact you could walk across to the other side. That’s how plentiful it was when we were thriving. [Now] No more oolichans.”

The oolichan stocks across northwestern North America have been declining for a century. No one, except First Nations knew or cared about this valuable, ugly little fish. Thirty years ago the pace of decline increased with the industrial development in the years following the Second World War. By the new millennium, the oolichan population was crashing from Oregon to north of Kitimat. The only viable stocks left are in the Nass and Skeena Rivers and those stocks are in trouble.

Endangered species

The oolichan in the Fraser River had completely collapsed by 2003. There was little, if any, media coverage. Compare that to the coverage of the collapse of the Fraser River sockeye run. Major headlines and now a Royal Commission investigating why.

In March, 2010, in California, Oregon and Washington, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service declared the oolichan to be a threatened species.

In January, 2011, I was tipped by three independent informed sources that the Canada’s Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada would soon declare the oolichan north from the US border up to the Skeena and the Nass as an endangered species. At a meeting of non-aboriginal recreational fishing guides that same month that there were also worries expressed that climate change might be affecting the remaining viable oolichan stocks in the Skeena and the Nass. There is no recreational, tourist oolichan harvest, by tradition it belongs to First Nations. The guides had no direct economic stake in the oolichan, but those guides knew very well from experience that the oolichan is a key indicator species in the collapse of all fish stocks in the rivers that they love and which sustain their business.

This crisis was out of sight, out mind with most of British Columbia and ignored by the rest of Canada.

I was unable to get any interest in this “scoop” from any of the national news organizations among my freelance clients. (One admittedly budget strapped editor told me “we’ve done fish from BC.”) Compare that with the ongoing coverage for decades of the cod crisis on Canada’s east coast.

The day the decision came out, in May, 2011 the oolichan was just one of the several species mentioned in the national news round up of new threats to the environment. Here is what COSEWIC news release said:

The Eulachon or ‘candlefish’, so-called because of its exceptionally high oil content and historical use as a candle, was assessed for the first time at this meeting. This small fish was once a cultural mainstay of many First Nations groups of coastal BC and the origin of the famous ‘grease trails’ that linked coastal and inland communities. Since the early 1990s, many traditional fisheries for this species have seen catastrophic declines of 90% or more, and the species is facing extirpation in many rivers. The cause is unclear but may be related to reductions in marine survival associated with shifting environmental conditions, by-catch, directed fishing and predation. Only the Nass River still supports a fishery but even here numbers have declined. The Nass / Skeena Rivers population of Eulachon was assessed as Threatened. Further south, the Central Pacific Coast and the Fraser River populations have experienced even greater declines resulting in an Endangered designation for both populations.


In the national media, only the Mark Hume of The Globe and Mail looked closely at the oolichan collapse, much later, in a story on May 28,. 2011 How to bring back the Eulachon?

In November, 2011, COSEWIC announced it that is now reassessing the health of the oolichan in the Skeena and Nass rivers.

In his testimony, on Jan. 10, 2012. Haisla Chief Counsellor, Ellis Ross said: “I was too young to go up the Kitimat River before the oolichan was wiped out. I missed out in that teaching.

“Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of oolichans annually, these are the stories that are passed down to me now. It’s not about this is where you go to fish; this is where your fishing camp is. It’s about this is where it used to be. This is what we used to do… “

Ellis Ross
Haisla chief counsellor Ellis Ross testifies before the Joint Review Panel at Kitamaat Village, Jan. 10, 2012. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Ross testified he has being going through the archives and records of the Haisla dealings with the federal and British Columbia governments. “All the assertion letters that council has sent out in the last 40 years in trying to determine what the Haisla Nation goal was. And it all had a common theme: protect the environment; bring back the environment. It always had that.”

He spoke of traditional knowledge and teaching. “Don’t disrupt the environment. Don’t spill any kerosene or gasoline into the river. Don’t litter in the river. Respect not only the oolichan and the river itself, respect your neighbours because once you are done with a fishing spot, you are going to process your oolichan and somebody else is going to move into that spot. So leave it the way you got it.

It’s a crime

“So as I was telling you, I missed out on all that, and it’s a crime. It’s an
absolute crime.

“The last story I got from the Kitimat River was my dad with Ray Green Sr. going up there after everybody else gave up on the Kitimat River. They tried to harvest oolichan so they could boil it into oolichan grease, but the end product smelled like effluent coming from the Eurocan Mill, so they thought it was just a product of the water itself. So they went inland a few hundred yards and dug a hole and tried to get the groundwater out of that and try to see if they could boil the oolichans using that. The result was the same.

“After that, there was no point because a run that estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands of tonnes annually got reduced to maybe 50 individual oohlicans per year. And I know that because we’re trying to struggle every year to find oolichan so we can test them for taint. If that’s not a signal to Kitimat, if not B.C. and not to Canada, something’s wrong. I don’t know what that is.

“If that was a commercially viable product, the whole country would have been up in arms demanding some sort of report and accountability from DFO. Nothing. We got nothing. Nobody came to our aid.

Ross told of the story of how the Haisla first came to the Kitimat region, how other First Nations were afraid of a giant monster that guarded the channel. When the Haisla reached the Kitimat River estuary it turned out the “monster” was, in fact, so many gulls that they appeared as one huge body when they took to wing.

“I can’t imagine that,” Ross testified. “If there’s thousands upon thousands of seagulls doing that at a distance of maybe greater than seven miles viewing it, imagine how much oolichan was in the river that those seagulls are feeding on.”

“The personal experience I have with the Kitimat River in 2003-2004 was going down to Vancouver to meet with the Minister of Environment. So we were trying to save what was left of the Kitimat River, we were trying to save what was left of the oolichans.

“So the pulp and paper mill couldn’t reach its intended targets in terms of effluent dumping and emissions so what was the provincial government’s solution; let’s amend the permit, let’s make it larger so they can reach their targets. They didn’t say anything about making the company reach those targets, fulfil its obligations, they just said let’s make the permit bigger.

“Well, we told the provincial government ‘If that happens, if you do that against our wishes we’re going to court’. The Minister at the time had the gall to put it back to us and say, ‘Okay, the company has already said that if they’re forced to abide by these permit conditions they most likely will have to close down. How will Haisla feel when you guys are the ones to blame for this pulp mill shutting down, how will you explain that to your people that working inside Eurocan’.

“And we said, ‘Go ahead and do it, I’m pretty sure for the six people out of 500 working in Eurocan mill we can find other opportunities for them’. Six people, and you look at every industry in Haisla territory over the years it was always started by Haisla people but they were slowly squeezed out for one reason or another.

Promises of jobs

“It’s all based on promises that we’ll come in, we’ll give you employment, we won’t affect the environment, we’ll listen to your wishes. Basically saying whatever they could to get their project approved and then guess what, less than 10 years later we find out that it was all a lie; they just said what they could just to get that permit, their certificate, whatever it was.

“I was born in 1965 and by the time I was old enough to start joining the fishing party to go up the Kitimat River by 1975 it was starting to decline. It didn’t take long; it didn’t take long at all. Salmon weren’t far behind it. There’s a reason why that state-of-the-art hatchery was built right beside the Kitimat River not long after. There’s a reason for just about everything that happened to Haisla in the last 60 years and it’s all directly linked to industrial development.

“So instead of getting taught how to fish for oohlicans, how to process oohlicans, how to boil for oohlicans, how to collect the right wood for burning for the oolichan pot, how to skim the grease, how to bottle it, no, I’m taught how the government issued permits that took it all away.”

In 2010, West Fraser shut the Eurocan mill, killed 500 jobs in Kitimat and walked away, leaving their mess in Kitimat for the current and future generations, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike to deal with. That is the deathly hallow of the invisible hand.

On January 12, 2012 , in Terrace, Chief Counsellor Don Roberts, of the Kitsumkalum First Nation appeared before the Joint Review Panel. In wide ranging testimony Roberts also spoke about the his First Nation’s concerns about the oolichan:

“The oolichans are from the Bering Sea, that’s where they come from. The food chain that they’re feeding up there is not researched. We’re not up there. But they feed something — they probably feed that same fish that’s migrating in here.

“The oolichan then come across the north end of Haida Gwaii and enter the coastal rivers.

“About six weeks ago, I heard on CBC they were talking with the elders
over Haida Gwaii. The pod of killer whales that never went south, they’re wondering
why. But a pod, about 40, with a bunch of pups, what they’re doing is feeding on that herring. They’re feeding on the oolichan.

He described about how after leaving Haida Gwaii. the oolichan come out of Grenville Channel and enter the Skeena River.

“This is where the oolichan hang out…This is a hundred fathom area, and they hang off [this] drop-off there, 100 fathoms, and they start moving in there in November and they just hang around there. They come from the Hecate Strait.

“Right now, we are in January. They’re still down in here yet. Probably if you go down there you’ll start seeing the life activity around there because the fish got to hold out there until the eggs are ripe and they start getting used to the [reduced] salinity in the water. Because way out in the ocean there, it’s almost 100 percent salinity…they’ll hold out here all of February, then move in.”

(The oolichan are in a zone where the fresh water from the rivers reduces the salinity of the ocean. This is where the oolichan adjust before moving inland, up river)

“In Grenville Channel, there is clam and cockle digging is from mid-October to March. The clams and cockles food harvest is always eaten with oolichan grease.

“Again, we are showing the importance of oolichan. It’s used as a main part of our culture. It’s used in everything…we eat it with salmon berries, now we’re eating it with the seaweed back then and the clams; every dish.

Food chain

At the mouth of the Skeena, “all the Chinook salmon are all in there but they all migrate in there. Everything that hits the Skeena all comes in here. All these tributaries all feed in salmon. The oolichans come in these deep channels and they start feeding into the Skeena. All the cods and all the halibut, everything comes in there, everything.

“When the oohlicans come in you can go down there and the halibut are there. And if you go there they’re [the oolichan] not there, you’ve got to dig really hard to get a halibut this time of the year. And after the oohlicans make their run in then you go out there again and they’re there.

“There’s the the sea prunes. I don’t know what Canada calls it, but that’s what we call it. They grow all along form Chatham Sound to Hecate Strait. It’s a delicacy. You pick it, you steam it, you peel that black off, the cells, the spine, and you dip it in oolichan grease and soya sauce, and you’ve got a dish.”

Roberts showed a map to the Joint Review Panel. “This is the map that the government showed us where the pipeline is going to run — the steamships are going to run, Enbridge. Kitimat all the way up there, come down, propose to go down here or propose to go out here. But all this area I’ve been talking about, there’s a — there’s the Skeena River right there. They [the oil tankers] just run right by it.

“All the halibut grounds are out here, right around all out there, you’re running right over it. All the seaweed grounds are all right there, all the way down here for the other Bands. All the way down. Abalone, the sea cucumbers, and the oolichan come right through there, the head of the food chain.”

That is the danger that First Nations and others fear, the destruction of the northwestern food chain.

New poster

Oolichan oil posterThis weekend, the distinguished aboriginal artist, Roy Henry Vickers, originally from Kitkatla, near Hazelton, now based in Campbell River, a member of the Order of Canada and Order of British Columbia, recipient of the Queen’s Jubilee medal, whose work has been Canada’s gift to world leaders including Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, and can be seen at Vancouver International Airport, publicly issued a poster, free for reproduction: “Oolichan Oil, not Alberta Oil.”

Since the declaration that the oolichan are an endangered species, those of aware of the issue in British Columbia have waited to see if the government of Stephen Harper will do anything, anything at all, to restore the oolichan stocks. After all, oolichan sustained the oil economy of British Columbia for at least two millenia, probably more.

Harper has not only done absolutely nothing about the oolichan, his government is ordering even more drastic cuts to the staff and resources of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans along the British Columbia coast. (The BC government also has some responsibilities for the oolichan as well since they divide their time between the ocean, which is federal, and the rivers which, except for the salmon, are provincial jurisdiction. The BC Liberals haven’t done anything either.)

The reason there is no trust for the Harper government in northwestern British Columbia, even among many northwestern conservatives, is that northwestern British Columbia is ignored not only on the oolichan issue, but on halibut allocation, the export of raw logs, the possible danger of farmed Atlantic salmon in southern British Columbia to the wild stocks in the north, the cutbacks at DFO and the Coast Guard. It appears to many here that Stephen Harper is perfectly prepared to sacrifice northwestern British Columbia for the sole benefit of Alberta and the bitumen sands.

The decline of the forest industry, while on one hand devastating, at least for now, for the economy of British Columbia, is slowly beginning to restore some of the rivers to health.

Imagine if the rivers were fully restored, and the oolichan came back to the sustainable, harvestable, economic levels that drove the BC economy for up to 5,000 years.

Along with salmon, herring and halibut, an oolichan harvest would provide all of British Columbia, First Nations and the rest of the province, with many hundreds more on-going jobs than the miniscule handful of permanent jobs this province will get along the Northern Gateway Pipeline route. It’s an ideal hope, of course, but an oolichan harvest would provide jobs and support the economy without the dangers of a major pipeline breach killing the river or an inevitable tanker accident, caused by human error (as all major shipping accidents are caused by human error) destroying the coast.

It appears that the Harper government is absolutely determined to put all of the Canadian economy in to one oily basket, the bitumen sands, and is refusing to consider any alternatives, especially any sustainable alternatives with the “green” label.

The great distances in northwestern BC mean people have to drive. The world economy will be dependent on petroleum for the time being and efforts to find viable, economic alternatives are mostly half hearted and  sometimes even blocked for ideological reasons.

So, one has to be pessimistic. Stephen Harper, Joe Oliver and Peter Kent have made it crystal clear that the Northern Gateway pipeline will go ahead, no matter what and likely no matter what the Joint Review Panel says. So far in the hearings not a day has gone by without at least one witness telling the panel they believe the hearings are rigged in favour of Enbridge and the Conservative government.

The lesson for Alberta and Stephen Harper from the collapse of BC’s rich oolichan oil economy is that short sighted, blinkered thinking will lead inevitably to disaster.   One has to wonder if Alberta cares whether there will be any petroleum left seven generations or seventy generations from now for all the non-burning uses such as petrochemicals and plastics.

Unfortunately, in sacrifice to the petro-economy and the deathly hallows of the invisible hand, the oolichan may actually go extinct, rather than creating a new, viable, oil-based economy for British Columbia.


Drake, Allen and  Lyle Wilson, Eulachon  A fish to cure humanity   Vancouver, Museum Note No. 32,  UBC Museum of Anthropology

Henley, Thom   River of Mist, Journey of Dreams  Rediscovery International Foundation, 2009

Northern Gateway Joint Review filed evidence and transcripts


Personal communications from First Nations


International Halibut Commission recommends drastic cuts in quotas, with worse to come

Environment Fishery

659-iphc.gifThe International Pacific Halibut Commission is recommending drastic cuts in quotas along the west coast for the 2012  season and possibly even larger cuts for the 2013 season.

For area 2B, the coast of British Columbia, the IPHC is recommending an overall quota of  6.633 million pounds, down from 7.650 million pounds in 2011, a decrease of 13.3 per cent.

Along the entire Pacific Coast, the IPHC wants the total  harvest cut 19 per cent from 41.07 million pounds this year to 33.882 million pounds in 2012.

The recommendations are based on the IPHC’s studies of the 2011 halibut harvest.

The commission says that exploitable biomass of  halibut continues to decline, reflecting lower recruitment (the number of fish that are becoming harvestable)  from the 1989 to 1997 year classes and smaller size at age.

The commission says that  while recruitment  from more recent year classes is stronger but halibut size at age continues to be much lower than that seen in the recent period (1997-1998) of historic high biomass, so these year classes are recruiting to the exploitable biomass more slowly than past year classes.

The IPHC FAQ explains this in easier terms as

For a simple question, this has a bit of a complicated answer. The simple answer is, they are still here. Or at least the same age fish are still here. For the past 15 years or so, halibut growth rates have been depressed to levels that haven’t been seen since the 1920’s. Both females and male halibut have the potential to grow rapidly until about age 10, about 2 inches per year for males and 2.5 inches for females. Thereafter, females have the potential to grow even faster, while males generally would slow down relative to female growth. Growth rates for these larger fish in the last 10 or so years are more on the order of one inch or less per year. This translates into a much smaller fish at any given age. There was a dramatic increase in halibut growth rates in the middle of this century, especially in Alaska. Sometime around 1980, growth rates started to drop, and now Alaska halibut of a given age and sex are about the same size as they were in the 1920’s. For example, in the northern Gulf of Alaska, an 11-year-old female halibut weighed about 20 pounds in the 1920’s, nearly 50 pounds in the 1970’s, and now again about 20 pounds. The reasons for both the increase and the decrease are not yet known but may be tied to increased abundance of other species, such as arrowtooth flounder, and availability of food supply

Steve Hare, the commission’s chief scientist told the Alaska Dispatch that scientists are becoming uncomfortable with the model they are using to calculate the biomass because “season after season the numbers of dead fish don’t add up correctly.”

Hare told the Alaska Dispatch that the commission is considering a new model that could mean “staggering cuts of 63 percent in the halibut fisheries to a mere 15 million pounds” in 2013.

Halibut quotas have been cut half since 2001 and the Alaska Dispatch says: “the implications of such a cut are huge — not only for fishermen of all sorts, but for small coastal communities from British Columbia north through Alaska, and for consumers.”

The quotas will be finalized and confirmed at the IPHC annual meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, during January 24-27, 2012.

IPHC news release Dec. 2, 2011 (pdf)

Alaska media is reporting halibut quotas must be halved, stocks in bad shape

Environment Fishery

A number of media outlets in Alaska are reporting that at today’s meeting of the International Pacific Halibut Commission, scientists have said that the population can only sustain  harvest quotas at half the current level.

The story comes mainly from the Kodiak Daily Mirror, with additional information from other media outlets.  There is currently no news release on the IPHC website.

The Associated Press, quoting the Mirror
, says:

Biologists say without adjusting for past overestimates, 2012’s Pacific
halibut limit would be set at 33 million pounds, down from 41 million
pounds in 2011. If an adjustment was made for past overestimates, the
sustainable catch limit may be as little as 15.3 million pounds across
the entire North Pacific.

Biologists do not know why their estimates have been consistently too high

Station KSTK, an Alaska Public Radio station is saying that the IPHC wants a 13.3 per cent cut in British Columbia’s quota to 6,633,000 pounds.

Alaska Dispatch says halibut harvest levels could go down to levels not seen since the 1930s.

The news website says: “Adult flatfish are disappearing from the population at unexplainable rates…”

Alaska Dispatch quotes IPHC biologist Steven Hare as saying that the real problem is “unspecified mortality.”

Halibut are disappearing from the population for reasons managers can only guess at. “It’s troubling,” Were managers to take these mystery disappearances fully into consideration, he added, they would be forced to recommend drastic cuts in commercial harvests.

One model that does this, he said, suggested setting catches “28 percent lower than the lowest level since 1935.” Catches, or at least legal catches, have already been pushed down 55 percent in the past decade, and they are for sure going down again

Proposed quotas according to KSTK

The staff’s 2012 catch recommendations for each area include:

  • 989,000 pounds in the Pacific Northwest area 2A which is up 8.7%.
  • 6,633,000 pounds in British Columbia area 2B which is down 13.3%.
  • 2,624,000 pounds in area 2C which is up 12.6%.
  • 11,918,000 pounds in the Central Gulf Area 3A which is down 17 %.
  • 5,070,000 pounds in the Western Gulf Area 3B which would be a drop of about 32 %.
  • 1,567,000 pounds in the Aleutians area 4A which is down about 35 %.
  • 2,180,000 pounds in the Aleutians area 4B which is 14 % down.
  • And 2,465,000 pounds in the Bering Sea areas 4C, D, and E a reduction of about 34 %.

The board will make a final decision on 2012 catch limits at a meeting in Anchorage from Jan. 24-27.

Seattle cod trawler wastes 114 tons of Alaska halibut: Alaska Dispatch

Environment Fishery

The Alaska Dispatch reports that a Seattle cod trawler wastes 114 tons of Alaska halibut

The Seattle-based trawler Alaska Beauty recently had a great week of halibut fishing… Only one problem: Alaska Beauty wasn’t supposed to be fishing halibut; it was supposed to be fishing cod.

Despite that, 43 percent of its catch was halibut. All of that halibut, by law, must be dumped back into the sea. Most of it goes back dead. Some Alaskans are starting to get angry at this sort of large “by-catch” of halibut by Pacific Northwest and Kodiak-based trawlers at a time when the species’ stocks are declining, and Alaska charter and commercial longline fisheries are locked in a bitter battle over every flatfish.

An anonymous blogger who goes by the name of Tholepin says “228,800 pounds of halibut wasted by draggers just last week,” Tholepin notes in the latest post. “Value? In cash terms to longliners, about $1.6 million. In lost reproductive potential, in lost growth potential, in long-term resource damage; all unknowns ..

Kitimat takes halibut fight to BC municipal convention

Environment Fishery


District of Kitimat councillor Randy Halyk, seen here at the local Jack Layton memorial on August 27, 2011, will be defending Kitimat’s resolution on halibut quotas at the Union of BC Municipalities convention.   (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Kitimat is taking the fight over halibut allocation to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention to be held in Vancouver September 26 to September 30.

The resolution is one of two that the union will consider on the halibut controversry, the other comes from the Capital District on Vancouver Island,

Members of the District of Kitimat council will be at the convention to sponsor and defend the resolution.

The Kitimat resolution calls on the union to endorse:

Whereas the current federal allocation of the sustainable Pacific halibut resource is insufficient to provide reasonable catch and possession limits for the recreational and commercial sport fishery;

And whereas an increase in daily catch and possession limits would be of great benefit in attracting sports fishing tourists to coastal communities.

Therefore be it resolved that the UBCM support an increase in the allocation of the sustainable Pacific halibut resource to the sport fishing and requests that the federal Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans increase the catch limits to two per day and four in possession.


 The Kitimat resolution was endorsed by the North Central Local Government Association

 The overall province wide resolutions committee gave no recommendation on the Kitimat resolution saying it wasn’t clear what impact the resolution would have on the sports fishing industry. The committee added a note to the agenda that in 2010 members of the UBCM did endorse a resolution that requested the provincial and federal governments support both the commercial fishing industry and the sports fishing industry equitably as they are both critical economic generators for residents within the province.

The resolutions committee notes that British Columbia did express “support for the sustainability of both commercial and recreational fisheries in tidal waters.” The province apparently “highlighted a number of its activities related to ensuring fisheries sustainability and maximizing the economic and social benefits.”

The somewhat stronger resolution from the Capital Region did not receive an endorsement from the Association of Vancouver and Coast Communities and a “no recommendation” from the province wide resolution committee. That resolution says, in part that the allocation between the recreational and commercial sectors in the Canadian halibut fishery during years of low abundance will destroy the economic viability of coastal communities and deny Canadian citizens access to the common property resource of halibut.

It calls for a “more fair and equitable approach that would allow the recreational and commercial fishing industries to survive during years of low annual quotas,” it calls for the federal government to purchase or lease halibut quota from the commercial sector (rather than having the recreational sector purchase individually as the current Department of Fisheries and Oceans “pilot project” calls for) so that the recreational sector has a “permanent base limit,” that the season be guaranteed from February 1 to December 1 each year and that the limit be one halibut per day, two in possession. (The Department of Fisheries and Oceans stopped the recreational halibut season as of midnight Sept. 15 while allowing the commercial season to continue).


Links: More objections to halibut closure

Environment Fishery Links

Letters  and op ed opinions to various media continue, objecting to the early closure of the recreational halibut fishery.

Courier Islander
Robert Alcock

Halibut decision hurts economy, communities

While this decision will have a substantial impact on the economies of
hundreds of businesses and dozens of coastal communities that depend on
the recreational halibut fishery for economic activity, it might be
understandable if commercial quota holders were actually required to
utilize their licences and quota shares.

Northern View

Bruce Wishart

DFO fails Canadians with closure of the Halibut fishery

Even before the closure, DFO stopped a lot of people from booking trips this year by announcing their intent and creating massive uncertainty. DFO created this allocation system. They had no idea how it would work. They didn’t allow for growth, and they didn’t even have accurate information to begin with. They’ve created a situation where a publicly-owned resource is being bought and sold by private interests. None of it made any sense to begin with – as just one example, when the sport fishery didn’t catch their allocation the commercial fishery was allowed to fish it, but the reverse was not allowed.