Fast Track Back–Fishery Politics in Northern BC

low clouds sea

Sailing into grey weather

27 July 2012 Klewnuggit Inlet; Butedale

Homeward bound.  The low clouds suited our grey mood: we didn’t want to turn back just yet, but the concerns of our land life were calling; we’d been conquered by the calendar.  At least we’d timed things right and got the push with the tide back down Grenville Channel.  Fog rolled in, then turned to rain as we headed back into Wright Sound; the weather pushing in from offshore up Squally Channel could clearly live up to that channel’s name.

Rain, plotter, radar

Exiting Grenville Channel in rain

We sailed quickly through choppy waters of Wright Sound, into McKay and then Fraser Reach. (Click on the link to watch a 2:25 minute video of Quoddy’s Run sailing in McKay Reach.)

McKay Channel

Elisabeth takes pictures as we sail in the mist

Around us in the fog and damp, we heard the sounds of small sports fishing vessels moving about, motors stopping and starting, voices. Mountains towered over us, their peaks lost in the clouds.  Blue-green light.  By evening, the fog had lifted; by 8:30 pm, we were tied up at the dock at Butedale again.

At dock in the night

Quoddy’s Run at dock in Butedale at night

All day, a parade of commercial fishing boats almost as thick as the salmon they were seeking came back down the Fraser Reach from the Skeena River. Many were hurrying south to try to position themselves for an opening on the Fraser River. (In fact, that fishery would never fully open in 2012 because the salmon counts were so low.)  Some fishermen seemed pleased with their catch, like the antique Finnish skipper and his crew on a stout, sparkling shipshape vessel from Sointula that we helped to tie up to the rickety docks at Butedale near midnight.

night, Butedale

Night in Butedale

Other fishermen were less pleased. A Heiltsuk skipper from Bella Bella whose boat was moored in front of ours told us the government shut the fishery down too soon and didn’t let the Bella Bella fishermen get their share.  He also told us that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans had set up an electric wire and was killing the salmon as they jump back up the river. He claimed the DFO was composting fish carcasses, emptying the river of fish so that there would be no further habitat or wildlife barriers to the oil and gas industries. (In fact, in the fall of 2012, the government removed these barriers by federal fiat, passing laws that removed habitat from the Fisheries Act, and vastly reduced the numbers of waterways protected from industry by federal regulations. These new laws, federal omnibus bills C-38 and C-45, have triggered massive First Nations and settler protests across the country, and birthed the Idle No More movement.)

flash solar panel

Solar panel in the dark

Steven Harper won’t be getting our vote again, the Heiltsuk skipper asserted; people are waking up to what he’s about.  No apologies will fix what he’s doing.  We wondered how many First Nations people really did vote for the federal Conservatives because Prime Minister Harper gave an official apology for the destructive (we would say genocidal) cultural policies of past governments towards First Nations people, and offered a compensation program for survivors of the residential school system, the aim of which had been, officially, to “take the Indian out” of First Nations children.  Did the apologies—a minimum of decency and the smallest of gestures towards taking some historical responsibility on the part of settler governments–really trigger gratitude?

At first, we thought that the story about the electric wire was a metaphor, a way of pointing to and underlining the fact that removing habitat from the fisheries act and other such gestures of the current government were, in effect, wantonly wasting the resources of the wild fishery.  But so was gillnetting, we thought, which was how all of those fishermen racing south by us had been fishing.  Where was the sport in that? Or the “resource management”? But as usual, there was quite a bit going on we knew nothing about. When we met Alexandra Morton some days later on the dock in Sointula, she confirmed that indeed, the DFO did have a management practice of electrocuting smolts in order to limit their numbers and give those that did mature a better chance to grow out. Do such policies really work? we asked. Alexandra couldn’t say.

Butedale Louis was glad to see us again, as was his cat.  We scrounged more rhubarb for another crisp, and later a rhubarb cake.

boat based logging operations

Trailer Princess logging headquarters

We left early the next morning in order to have the tide with us through the Heikish Narrows.  Many more small gillnetters cruised by us as the morning wore on.  As we ran down Graham Reach, we saw an enormous old vessel re-commissioned as a platform for logging operations tucked into a creek bed near the opening of Green Inlet.  It was named, aptly and hilariously, the “Trailer Princess.” Tongue-in-cheek woodsmen.  Clear cuts ripped through the region. With the binoculars, we noted that porters were parked in the bow of the vessel, while houses and offices were stacked in the stern, and a little tug and some other vessels were rafted alongside.   Tolmie Point was cut in wide swaths all along the water.  Beautiful BC! Beautiful cruise ship route! Is anyone paying attention?

gulls ride sticks

Gull catch a ride

Eagles sat in the cedars along Heikish Narrows, watching the salmon jumping.  Two large open pen salmon feedlots were nearby in Sheep Passage.  We wondered if the salmon we saw jumping were wild or escaped farmed Atlantic salmon.  As we passed the fish farms, we  watched a crew power-spraying nets in open water. You wouldn’t get away with that on our coast, but who was watching here? Just us, and what did we know?

moving fish farm cages

Moving fish farm cages in Sheep Passage

illegal water sports?

Divers spray wash old fish pens in Sheep Passage

About Karin Cope

Karin Cope lives on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia. She is a poet, sailor, photographer, scholar, rural activist, blogger and an Associate Professor at NSCAD University. Her publications include Passionate Collaborations: Learning to Live with Gertrude Stein, a poetry collection entitled What we're doing to stay afloat, and, since 2009, a photo/poetry blog entitled Visible Poetry: Aesthetic Acts in Progress. Over the course of the last decade, with her partner and collaborator Marike Finlay, Cope has sailed to and conducted fieldwork in a number of remote or marginal coastal communities in British Columbia and Mexico. Their joint writings range from activist journalism and travel and policy documents, to an illustrated popular material history of the Lunenburg Foundry entitled Casting a Legend, as well as their ongoing west coast travel blog, West By East.
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