How BC’s residents affect its coastal ecosystems

Faculty of Environment discusses how consumption impacts BC’s coast

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By: Harvin Bhathal, News Writer

A talk, entitled Navigating towards ecologically safe and socially just fisheries, was held at SFU Harbour Centre on Thursday March 12. It was the final lecture of the semester in the Dean’s lecture series from SFU’s Faculty of Environment.

“We’re doing to the ocean the same thing that we’re doing to the land that we massacred,” stated Daniel Pauly, UBC zoology professor. “Essentially, we are deforesting the ocean.” 

Pauly was one of the presenters, alongside Anne Salomon, one of Canada’s leading specialists in coastal marine ecology, and Kii’iljuus Barbara J. Wilson, an SFU MA alumnus, educator and elected representative for the Council of the Haida Nation. The focus of the talk was on the interconnectedness of social systems, governance systems, and ecosystems. 

According to her bio on the event page, Wilson’s research links traditional knowledge, land and ocean management, conservation, climate change and Indigenous governance. Pauly is focused in mitigating the impact fisheries have on marine ecosystems as his doctorate and habilitation are in Fisheries Biology.

In regards to coastal ecosystems, Salomon discussed the intertwined systems “where humans have been [ . . . ] overexploiting, learning, managing and steward[ing] some of these areas for thousands of years.” 

Salomon discussed the resilience of these social-ecological systems, and how they have the capacity to “adapt and transform the response to changing ocean conditions, societal values, international markets, and shifting governance practices.”

According to Salomon and Wilson, adapting to the life cycle of nature, strengthening Indigenous governance authority, and implementing adaptive co-management plans are solutions to protect BC’s Coast.

Salomon and Wilson also discussed the decline of kelp forests in the water along BC’s coast because of the growing population of sea urchins. Sea otters used to keep the sea urchin population in check as the latter was a food source, however large-scale commercial hunting took its toll on the sea otter population.The effects of climate change and ocean acidification also affected the sea urchins. Without the balance that the otters provided, the urchin’s population has risen and overeaten the kelp that acts as food and shelter for many organisms. 

“My people always knew how to [maintain balance] by [ . . . ] being very deliberate in the ways they manage the very spheres of Haida Gwaii,” said Wilson. 

The biggest challenge, according to Wilson, is that animals and humans both have a right to food.

“How do we do this respectfully [and] how do we eat [considering climate change] and the acidification of the ocean?” 

Pauly thought that a global perspective “can best be shown through the expansion of fisheries.”

The consequences of overfishing along BC’s coast can be seen in the decline in population of sea otters, clams and herring. 

Herring eggs are used for caviar but in North America, the rest of the fish is typically used as fertilizer, cat food or simply thrown away as opposed to a food source for humans. 

Pauly, who grew up in Europe, added, “This is bizarre [ . . . ] because herring is actually good food.”

Since the herring is a common food source for marine mammals and predatory fish, according to Pauly, “The best way to protect [animals] is to leave them some food.”

The talk was streamed online for anyone who could not see it in person, and is available via the Eventbrite. For more information, visit coastalvoices.net to watch the documentary, Coastal Voices: Navigating the Return of Sea Otters, on which Salomon and Wilson worked as a researcher and cultural advisor respectively.