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.



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Kinder Morgan announces plans to increase capacity of Trans Mountain pipeline to Vancouver

Trans Mountain pipelne
The Trans Mountain Pipeline (Kinder Morgan)

Kinder Morgan, of Houston, Texas,  said Thursday, April 12, 2012, it plans to proceed with expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline system from Alberta to the BC Lower Mainland. The company made the announcement after what the energy industry calls an “open season,” a search for customers where it received “strong binding commitments” from existing and new shippers. They pledged commercial support to an additional 660,000 barrels per day of bitumen sands crude from the pipeline. Demand has been high and reports say Kinder Morgan has had to ration petroleum products for its existing customers.

The 20 year commitment from the customers means the pipeline capacity would increase to 850,000 barrels per day from 550,000 barrels. That would make the eventual capacity of the Kinder Morgan pipeline much larger than Enbridge Northern Gateway’s proposed 525,000 barrels per day.

In a release,  Ian Anderson, president of Kinder Morgan Canada said, “We are extremely pleased with the strong commercial support that we received through the open season, which reinforces the appeal of our project and our approach. This strong commercial support shows the market’s enthusiasm for expanding market access for Canadian crude by expanding an existing system.”

Now Kinder Morgan has to get approval from the National Energy Board and acceptance from the local communities along the pipeline route from the Alberta bitumen sands to the terminals and refineries in Vancouver and in Washington state and for tanker export.

“This support from the market better defines the project and enables Kinder Morgan Canada to fully engage the local communities. We are still early in the engagement process of the project,” Anderson said in the release. “We share respectful, open relationships with many communities and organizations interested in our business. We are committed to an 18 to 24 month inclusive, extensive and thorough engagement on all aspects of the project with local communities along the proposed route and marine corridor, including First Nations and Aboriginal groups, environmental organizations and all other interested parties. We will also consider providing financial support to local communities for environmental initiatives. We have been planning for this day for many years and we are keen to start in depth engagement this summer.”

Kinder Morgan says the preliminary scope of the proposed project includes:


  • Projected capital cost of approximately $5 billion.
  • Twinning the existing pipeline within the existing right-of-way, where possible.
  • Adding new pump stations along the route.
  • Increasing the number of storage tanks at existing facilities.
  • Expanding the Westridge Marine Terminal.

Anderson added, “We anticipate filing a facilities application initiating a regulatory review with the National Energy Board in 2014. If our application is approved, construction is currently forecast to commence in 2016 with the proposed project operating by 2017.”

In addition to extensive engagement, the company will conduct traditional land use and environmental and socio-economic studies, and undertake detailed engineering and design studies, the release says.

The Trans Mountain proposal, like the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is a “facilities application,” and one uncertainty facing the company will be the highly controversial decision by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to speed up all future project applications of that type. Environmental groups have already expressed strong opposition to the speed up, while the energy industry has said faster application approval is long over due.

As well as the facilities application, Kinder Morgan says it will file “a commercial tolling application to review the company’s proposed commercial structure for the expansion. This filing, which is anticipated in summer 2012, will seek National Energy Board approval on how the company will charge its customers for transporting their product through the proposed expanded pipeline.”

Kinder Morgan says that for almost 60 years, the 1,150-km Trans Mountain pipeline system has been safely and efficiently providing the only west coast access for Canadian oil products, including about 90 percent of the gasoline supplied to the interior and south coast of British Columbia.

However, the continuing controversy over the Enbridge Northern Gateway and other pipeline projects, together with some accidents including the spill of 100,000 barrels of light crude near Abbotsford, has raised the profile of the Kinder Morgan line and therefore will likely bring more public scrutiny. Any increase in the capacity of the pipeline will also mean more tanker traffic in the already crowded waterways of the Vancouver harbour system and along the west coast.

Last June, Kinder Morgan also proposed the building of second pipeline from the bitumen sands to the west coast, roughly following the route of the Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat. There was no mention of that project in today’s announcement.


Washington State proposes converting ferries to LNG


The Seattle Times reports Plan would convert ferries to liquefied natural gas

A proposal to convert six Washington state ferries to liquefied natural gas could save nearly $10 million a year, consultants have told top Washington legislators.

The conversions of the Issaquah-class ferries would cost $65 million, but consultant Cedar River Group said the money would be paid back in seven years through fuel savings.

The six ferries have a life expectancy of 30 more years…

If the state were to convert the six Issaquah-class ferries built in the 1980s — the Cathlamet, Chelan, Issaquah, Kitsap, Kittitas and Sealth — they would be the first ferries fueled by liquefied natural gas in the nation.

Salmons’ extra large guts are a survival tactic

Coho salmon Based on the drawing from Silver o...

Image via Wikipedia

Environment Fishery Science

Salmon have extra large guts–up to three times larger than its body would suggest–that help it survive, scientists at the University of Washington say.   

The study “Excess digestive capacity in predators reflects a life of feast and famine”   is published in Nature.

A news release from the university calls the large gut a “previously unrecognized survival tactic.” Although fishers who gut a salmon may say that no one noticed how big the gut actually was as they threw it away, the same apparently applied to scientists as the article states:  “Despite …basic principle of quantitative evolutionary design, estimates of digestive load capacity ratios in wild animals are virtually non-existent.”

The study is by PhD student  Jonathan “Jonny” Armstrong, originally from  Ashland, Ore, who says he has been fascinated by salmon ever since he saw a Chinook leap out of the water when he was ten.

The study says that when the “foraging opportunities for animals are unpredictable, which should favour animals that maintain a capacity for food-processing that exceeds average levels of consumption (loads), The study  that piscine  [fish] predators typically maintain the physiological capacity to feed at daily rates two to three times higher than what they experience on average…”

“This much excess capacity suggests predator-prey encounters are far patchier – or random – than assumed in biology and that binge-feeding enables predators to survive despite regular periods of famine,” Armstrong said. Co-author and supervisor on the paper is Daniel Schindler, University of  Washington  professor of aquatic and fishery sciences.

“Guts are really expensive organs in terms of metabolism,” Armstrong said. For instance, maintaining a gut can require 30 to 40 per cent of the blood pumped by an animal’s heart.

Some animals have some capacity to grow or shrink their guts in response to changing conditions. For example, according to previous studies,  the digestive organs of birds that are about to migrate expand so they can eat more and fatten up. This is followed by a period when their guts atrophy and then, freed of the baggage of heavy guts, the birds take off. But this study shows  that many fish species maintain a huge gut, which enables them to capitalize on unpredictable pulses of food.

Ravens and crows, for example, are known to cache food far from where they find it. Fish can’t do that. “Unlike some other animals, fish can’t just hoard their food behind a rock in the stream and eat it later. They need to binge during the good times so that they can grow and build energy reserves to survive the bad times,” Armstrong says.

Armstrong is part of the university’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences  which has a field site at the Alaska Salmon Program’s Lake Aleknagik. Using a dry suit, Armstrong snorkeled the Aleknagik tributaries, swimming in waters as low as 5°C where he found out  the Aleknagik streams exhibited tremendous variation in water temperature, which inspired him to study how those temperatures affected the ecology of the streams.

In his initial studies, he looked at the effect of water temperature on juvenile coho’s ability to consume sockeye eggs. He says, “In cold streams, juvenile coho salmon were too small to fit the abundant sockeye eggs in their mouths. In warmer streams, the coho grew large enough to consume eggs, gorged themselves, and achieved rapid growth, and this suggested that small changes in temperature can have disproportionate affects on coho salmon production.”

 The “previously unrecognized survival tactic”  might apply to other top predators, such as wolves, lions and bears,  Armstrong says.

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Obama press secretary questioned on anti oil sands demonstrations

Energy Environment links

U.S. president Barack Obama’s press secretary, Jay Carney, was asked about the continuing demonstrations  in Washington against the Alberta oil sands and the Keystone XL pipeline proposal during a “gaggle” (an informal news conference) aboard Air Force One en route to Minnesota today.

The White House released this transcript of the brief exchange:

Q Also, anything on these protests outside the White House on this
pipeline? Has the President decided against TransCanada’s permit for the
pipeline? It’s the tar sands pipeline. There have been a lot of arrests
outside the White House about it.

MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything new on that. I believe the State
Department has — that’s under the purview of the State Department
presently, but I don’t have anything new on that.

Q Is the President aware of the protests?

MR. CARNEY: I haven’t talked to him about it.

Protestors have been demonstrating in a restricted area near the White House and are inviting arrest as part of an ongoing effort to stop the Keystone XL bitumen pipeline from Alberta to Texas. The latest celebrity to take part in the protests was actress Darryl Hannah, who was arrested today, as reported by The Guardian.

The State Department did give its approval to the Keystone XL pipeline on  Aug 26, saying, as reported in The Guardian.

The State Department said the proposed 1,700-mile pipeline would not cause significant damage to the environment.

The State Department in its report said the project – which would pipe more than 700,000 barrels a day of tar sands crude to Texas refineries – would not increase greenhouse gas emissions. It also downplayed the risks of an accident from piping highly corrosive tar sands crude across prime American farmland.

Campaigners accused the State Department of consistently overlooking the potential risks of the pipeline.

The largest anti-pipeline demonstration is expected on Sept. 2, when First Nations leaders are expected to join the protests in front of the White House.

“Call the Americans.” Canadian Coast Guard cutbacks now an issue in the US Senate

The Coast

The controversy over the Harper government’s cutbacks to Canadian Coast Guard resources on both west and east coasts  has now become an issue in the United States Senate.

While most of the media attention last week was on Newfoundland, where there are fears not only of moving the search coordination centre from the island to Trenton, and the possible privatization of the entire search and rescue service, the cutbacks on the northern coast of British Columbia have yet to become a national story, even though the conservative government is increasing its promotion of tanker traffic from Pacific ports.

Now the issue has come to attention of  Senator Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat, who is raising alarm bells in the Senate about the dangers of tanker traffic, the possibility of a spill and  the probable inadequacy of the Canadian response to any major shipping accident along the coast.


Cantwell’s main concern is upgrading the ability of the United States Coast Guard to respond to such an accident, “This is a major threat to our region,” Cantwell said at hearing on July 20 of the Senate  Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee. “It seems that Canada’s oil spill response plan in the Pacific Northwest is to call the Americans.  …Obviously any such spill in the narrow and heavily populated waters of the Puget Sound or Strait of Juan de Fuca would cause tens of billions of dollars in damage and impact millions of my constituents. … I think it deserves a very robust oil spill response plan.”

Cantwell  says she secured a commitment  from  Rear Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, Assistant Commandant for Marine Safety, Security and Stewardship for the United States Coast Guard, to have the U.S. Coast Guard perform an extensive analysis of cross-border readiness and ability to respond to potential spills given the potentially dramatic increase in oil tanker traffic along the U.S.-Canada maritime border off Washington state.

After the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Cantwell pushed a bill through the U.S. Congress  that, strengthens oil spill protections for Puget Sound and other U.S. coastal waters. The bill, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on October 15, 2010, includes  provisions that significantly enhance oil spill response and prevention to protect valuable coastal communities and their economies.

Cantwell’s news release  says

The legislation expands the oil spill response safety net from Puget Sound out to the entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, ensuring that Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca have spill response teams and equipment in place. The bill further reduces ship and tanker traffic in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary; enhances spill prevention efforts on vessels transporting oil; and establishes a stronger role for tribes.

Cantwell also fought to include a provision that requires tug escorts for double-hulled tankers in Prince William Sound. Approximately 600 oil tankers and 3,000 oil barges travel through Puget Sound’s fragile ecosystem annually, carrying about 15 billion gallons of oil to Washington’s five refineries. The Strait of Juan de Fuca also has significant outbound tanker traffic originating in Vancouver and carrying Canadian oil. Prior to the 2010 Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill, American industry only had to position oil spill response equipment in Puget Sound, leaving the busy shipping lane in the Strait of Juan de Fuca unprotected.

Cantwell’s provision extended the “high volume port area” designation west to Cape Flattery. As a result, oil spill response equipment, such as booms and barriers, are now prepositioned along the Strait, supplementing the response equipment already in place in Puget Sound.

An oil spill in waters in Washington state interior waterways could be devastating. According to the Washington State Department of Ecology, a major spill would have a significant impact on Washington state’s coastal economy, which employs 165,000 people and generates $10.8 billion. A spill would also severely hurt our export dependent economy because international shipping would likely be severely restricted. Washington state’s waters support a huge variety of animals and plants, including a number of endangered species, all which would be harmed by a spill.

Cantwell says she was successful in protecting a tanker ban in Puget Sound.  Former  Alaskan Repuiblican Senator Ted Stevens attempted to overturn the then 28-year-old protections authored by former Senator Warren Magnuson limiting oil tanker traffic in the Puget Sound. In 1977, Senator Warren Magnuson had the foresight to recognize the great risk that oil supertankers would have on the waters of Puget Sound. He put his findings into law and essentially banned supertankers in the Puget Sound by prohibiting the expansion of oil terminals in Puget Sound.

Enbridge, environmentalists agree

The inadequate Canadian Coast Guard resources in the Pacific region bring rare agreement between Enbridge which wants to build the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline and the project’s environmental opponents.

While Enbridge maintains that safety systems it plans would make a tanker accident a rare event, when officials were questioned at last September’s public meeting in Kitimat, they said Enbridge was worried about Coast Guard resources on the west coast.   They said that Enbridge’s emergency planning scenarios call for it to take 72 hours for the Canadian Coast Guard to respond with its meagre equipment from Victoria and Vancouver to a tanker accident in Douglas Channel.  The Enbridge team admitted under questioning from the audience that the company would urge to Canadian government to call on US Coast Guard resources from Alaska and as far away as California in the event of a major spill, confirming Sen. Cantwell’s statement to the subcommittee that Canada would “Call the Americans.”

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Canadian oil boom may bring many more tankers to Northwest waters: Seattle Times

Seattle Times

Canadian oil boom may bring many more tankers to Northwest waters

[F]ights over Canada’s oil sands could have an impact much closer to home. One company is hoping to boost oil-sands shipments to Asia through Northwest waters — plans that would quadruple tanker traffic through Vancouver, B.C., and dramatically increase the amount of oil traveling through the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Some of the tankers the company hopes to accommodate could carry four times more crude than the Exxon Valdez, the supertanker that spilled 11 million gallons of crude into Prince William Sound….

“That’s definitely a lot more crude carriers,” said Chip Booth, a manager with the Washington state Department of Ecology’s spills program. “It certainly represents a bit of a higher risk.”

But it’s far too soon to say how much more.

TransCanada defends pipeline project in Washington

PostMedia News

Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. courted its U.S. congressional allies — and confronted its foes — on Monday amid an effort by Republicans to pass legislation forcing the Obama administration to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline before the end of 2011.
In testimony before the House subcommittee on energy and power, TransCanada executive Alex Pourbaix dismissed as “completely false” allegations by environmental groups that diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands is more dangerous and corrosive to transport than conventional heavy oil.