DFO allows herring fishery, despite wide protest

DFO allows herring fishery, despite wide protest

Bob Cain photo

By George Le Masurier

In  a move that will certainly the federal government’s own efforts to protect Southern resident Killer Whales in the Salish Sea, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced this week that the March herring fishery would go ahead as planned.

Several groups, including Conservancy Hornby Island, and 42,000 people who signed a petition to stop this year’s herring fishery believe DFO’s action will have negative long-term impacts on chinook salmon stocks. Herring make up 80 percent of chinook salmon’s diet, and chinook comprise roughly 80 percent of Killer Whales’ food source.

Conservancy Hornby Island issued the following statement yesterday, Feb. 4:

Conservancy Hornby Island and the 42,000 and counting people who signed the petition to close down the herring roe fishery in the Strait of Georgia off the west coast of Canada are disappointed with the recent announcement made by DFO regarding the commercial fishery that will happen this March and April.

Conservancy Hornby Island president Grant Scott said, “We were hoping that DFO would listen to the people and seriously restrict this fishery that just doesn’t make sense. The quota set for 2019 is basically the same as last year. The fleet is allowed to take 27,500 tons of herring between the roe, bait and food fisheries.

This represents approximately 200,000,000 herring or the weight equivalent to the largest BC ferry full of cars, trucks and people. While 10 percent of the roe fishery will be consumed directly by people, most of this crucial part of the marine food web will be ground up into fish meal for the fish farm and pet food industries.”

Scott went on to say, “Herring is the cornerstone species for many of the mammals, fish and seabirds who live in or migrate through the Strait of Georgia. Strait of Georgia Orcas and spring salmon are listed by one arm of the federal government as “endangered” while another allows a massive herring fishery when 62% of chinook salmon diet is herring and 80% of Orca diet is chinook salmon. To kill this many
herring in the commercial fishery rather than leaving them to support these other species doesn’t make sense to us.”

DFO says SOG herring are “at or near historic highs” yet there is archaeological evidence and First Nations’ traditional knowledge that historically there was much more herring all around the Strait of Georgia. DFO calculates what it calls “historic high” based on one part of the herring run between Parksville and Comox.

At one time there were huge runs in Vancouver harbour, around the southern gulf islands and all along the Sunshine coast. They are all gone. 4 of the 5 herring spawn areas on the BC coast including Haida Gwaii, Prince Rupert, Central Coast and the west coast of Vancouver Island are shut down because of over fishing Given DFO’s poor track record in sustainably managing herring on our coast it is hard for us to believe the SOG herring around Hornby and Denman won’t eventually go the same way.

Recently we have received a lot of support from the sports fishing and whale watching industries who say that combined they earned approximately $500,000,000 and employed thousands of people full time in 2016, compared to the herring fishery that generated $56,000,00 and fewer than 100 full-time equivalent jobs according to the BC Ministry of Agriculture statistics division that. They say herring are critical for the salmon and whales that are the basis of their businesses and an essential element of “Super Natural BC”, an image we like to sell to the world.

In summary, we think it makes much more sense to leave these fish in the ocean not only for environmental reasons but because it makes good economic sense.

For more information contact: Grant Scott, CHI president, 250-218-2323



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More Environment | News

“Stinking” sewage plant wafts back onto CVRD agenda

The Curtis Road Residents Association will press the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission again next week, this time on policy issues related to their decades-long battle to eliminate unpleasant odours from the system’s sewage treatment plant

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The Comox Lake Watershed Protection Plan and the Kus Kus Sumrestoration were highlighted at a recent stormwater conference, while the keynote speaker urged public pressure on local governments to adopt green infrastructure

Strathcona groundwater motion headed to AVICC vote

Strathcona groundwater motion headed to AVICC vote

Photo Caption

By Gavin MacRae

The Strathcona Regional District has unanimously passed a motion requesting the province cease licensing groundwater for commercial water bottling and bulk water exports.

Currently, the motion applies only to the Strathcona Regional District, but will be heard again at an April meeting of the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC).

If it is passed there, the motion will become island-wide, and again move upward to be considered as a unified request by the Union of British Columbia Municipalities. There is potential for all BC municipalities and districts to send an unambiguous message that would “put huge pressure on the provincial government to change the Water Sustainability Act (WSA),” said Brenda Leigh, Strathcona Regional District Area D director, and architect of the board’s Jan. 24 motion.

“There’s 29 regional districts in British Columbia, and a lot of them have been impacted by corporate extraction of their water supply,” said Leigh. “This is very important because the commodification of water in Canada means that we’re putting our water sources at risk.”

A 2018 struggle between the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource and Rural Development (FLNRORD), and the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) highlighted the friction between regional districts and the BC government over groundwater extraction for profit. The dispute began when FLNRORD approved a license for the commercial sale of groundwater, without public notification and against the wishes of the CVRD and K’omoks First Nation. Public opposition to the license was formidable, and the CVRD ultimately denied a zoning amendment necessary for the water to be processed, effectively rendering the license unusable.

Leigh said her motion is rooted in general principle, and not in reaction to the CVRD dispute. 

Changes to the WSA would negate the need for district-level efforts to control commercial water extraction with zoning decisions, said Leigh. “First things first – we need to get the province on our side, and make sure they’re protecting our water. They have the power to do that.”

Leigh was critical of the “first in time, first in right” principle guiding groundwater licensing in BC. “First in time, first in right, is about giving licenses to corporations to bottle the water, or sell it by bulk, and that is putting our aquifers at risk unless the local government knows how
it’s going to impact their citizens,” she said.

Some areas in Leigh’s district rely totally on groundwater. In recent summers, drought conditions in August have forced the district to tap emergency reservoirs. She anticipates climate change will exacerbate the problem in the future.

“It’s sort of a perfect storm,” she said.

Gavin MacRae is an editorial assistant of the Watershed Sentinel, a publishing partner of Decafnation. He may be reached at gavin@watershedsentinel.ca.






Groundwater is the largest source of usable, fresh water in the world. In many parts of the world, especially where surface water supplies are not available, domestic, agricultural, and industrial water needs can only be met by using the water beneath the ground.

The U.S. Geological Survey compares the water stored in the ground to money kept in a bank account. If the money is withdrawn at a faster rate than new money is deposited, there will eventually be account-supply problems. Pumping water out of the ground at a faster rate than it is replenished over the long-term causes similar problems.

Groundwater depletion is primarily caused by sustained groundwater pumping. Some of the negative effects of groundwater depletion:

Lowering of the Water Table
Excessive pumping can lower the groundwater table, and cause wells to no longer be able to reach groundwater.

Increased Costs
As the water table lowers, the water must be pumped farther to reach the surface, using more energy. In extreme cases, using such a well can be cost prohibitive.

Reduced Surface Water Supplies
Groundwater and surface water are connected. When groundwater is overused, the lakes, streams, and rivers connected to groundwater can also have their supply diminished.

Land Subsidence
Land subsidence occurs when there is a loss of support below ground. This is most often caused by human activities, mainly from the overuse of groundwater, when the soil collapses, compacts, and drops.

Water Quality Concerns
Excessive pumping in coastal areas can cause saltwater to move inland and upward, resulting in saltwater contamination of the water supply.

— Groundwater.org


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Father Charles Brandt: a long and winding journey

Father Charles Brandt: a long and winding journey

Father Charles by a writing desk on the main floor of his original cabin  /  George Le Masurier photos

By George Le Masurier

Father Charles Brandt made a long and winding journey from a farm in rural Missouri to the Comox Valley. Along the way, it took him through New York, Louisiana, Mexico City, Oklahoma and Iowa, with side trips through Switzerland, Italy, England, Ottawa and Winnipeg.

He eventually found his way to the Tsolum River where he lived with a group of hermits and, a little later, on his own 27-acre hermitage along the Oyster River.

This week, just 19 days before his 96th birthday, Father Charles donated a conservation covenant over his land to the Comox Valley Land Trust. The covenant protects the land from development, logging or other activities in perpetuity, regardless of any change in ownership over time. The CVLT will hold the covenant, although Brandt plans to gift his property to the Comox Valley Regional District for a public park.

It’s a remarkable donation, not only for its charity or its demonstration of love for nature, but also because it happened at all.

The boy who was raised as a Methodist and converted to Anglicanism, was once on track to the Anglican priesthood. But as his interests in communicating with God through nature and in living as a hermit grew, Brandt later converted to Catholicism. He was officially ordained as a hermit-priest, the first in 200 years, in the Roman Catholic Church in Courtenay in 1966.

But Brandt told Decafnation in an interview just over a month ago that he wasn’t always so certain about his future vocation. He had many questions and doubts along the way.

Still, Brandt said, he subconsciously knew he wanted to live a contemplative life within nature.

As a young Boy Scout he slept in the wild and kept absolute silence for 24 hours. He had a passion for birding, which with scouting, were his first connections to the natural world. He studied ornithology at Cornell University. He became an internationally known master bookbinder. By the age of 13, he had read Henry David Thoreau’s epic book, Walden.

Uncertain early beginnings

Charles Brandt was born on Feb. 19, 1923 in Kansas City, Missouri to his Danish-English parents, Alvin Rudolph Brandt-Yde and Ann Chester Bridges, who were Methodists. When the family moved to a farm outside the city when Brandt was five years old, Brandt had his first experiences with the natural world.

“Every tree had a bird’s nest in it … it was amazing to me,” Brandt said in an interview published last year on Academia.edu. “When I was quite young, I felt we should have contact with God … it was just kind of an intuition.”

“The monastery life doesn’t provide enough time for meditation and prayer. They’re workaholics.”

And when a relative introduced him at age 13 to the works of Henry David Thoreau, he read Walden, which he now says was his first awareness of the hermit life. But the idea didn’t have time to fully sink in.

After graduating from high school in 1941, he started post-secondary studies at the University of Missouri. But that was interrupted by the draft and a four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force. He trained primarily as a navigator, but also bombardiering, something he questioned with a military chaplain. But the chaos of war didn’t give him space to think more about it.

Brandt says now that he wouldn’t consider himself a conscious objector. He calls himself nonviolent, but ready to take a stand when there is a reason.

“If I had known what was going on in Germany, I would have been there from the beginning,” he said.

After the war, Brandt chose to study at Cornell University in New York State because they had an ornithology department. But he quickly decided against pursuing that course of studies, and was, for a time, uncertain about his vocation.

Brandt had come into contact with the Anglican Church while in the military. So when he attended a summer religious retreat during his second year at Cornell, at age 25, he began thinking of the Anglican priesthood and was ordained into the church in 1948.

Brandt meets Merton

But after reading the book The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton he started thinking about the monastic life, and becoming a Roman Catholic. So after visiting a Catholic priest in Louisiana and carrying on to Mexico City to visit the shrine of the Lady of Guadalupe, Brandt decided to study theology with Benedictine monks in Shawnee, Oklahoma. He spent a year there as a choir monk, and was officially “received” into the Catholic Church.

Brandt’s next stop on his journey to the Comox Valley was a religious order farm in Bardstown, Kentucky, known as the Abbey of Gethsemani. He learned bookbinding there and met one of the great influences on his life, Thomas Merton, in person.

Brandt then spent eight years as a Trappist monk in the New Melleray monastery in Iowa. He honed his skills as a bookbinder there, eventually taking charge of the bindery. But he found the Trappist life too rigid. Brandt had become more and more interested in a contemplative life.

So Brandt wrote a letter to Thomas Merton, who responded that he should try it.

“He (Merton) told me the monastery life doesn’t provide enough time for meditation and prayer. It’s too busy,” Brandt said. “They’re workaholics.”

The responding letter remains a treasured possession of Brandt’s.

“I had just heard about some hermits on Vancouver Island,” Brandt told Decafnation. “I visited them in March of 1965 … and never looked back.”

Since that time, Brandt has practiced a different and little known kind of Christian prayer. It’s a type of Christian meditation advocated by Merton, and made popular by the Trappist monk Thomas Keating.

“By comparison, it makes traditional Christian contemplative prayer feel outdated,” Brandt said. “It’s a willingness to be present to God, to accept his actions within us.”

Brandt continues to host a monthly meditations for a select group of about 10 people at the Oyster River Hermitage.

Covenant decision not easy

Although Brandt owns his property — he purchased it for $9,000 in 1965 — he needed the blessing of the Bishop of Victoria, who briefly considered bringing another hermit to live there.

“I thought it would be difficult to sign the document for the covenant,” Brandt said. “I lose a little security making the covenant, but I still own the property and could sell it, but for much less value with the covenant on it.

“Kind of a temptation,” he said.

But when the covenant was offered to him he said, yes, because, “It’s always good to say yes … just the idea leads to things we don’t know about.”

Brandt will continue to live in the small cabin — sometimes called The Hermitage or Merton’s House –that he built from lumber salvaged from a house he tore down in south Courtenay. Former Vanier Principal Hank Schellink found the house for him, and Brandt lived there while dismantling it.

“They (doctors) hold immense power,” he said. “Not being able to drive would hold me down.”

Before his moved his cabin from the Tsolum area to the Oyster River property, the local Knights of Columbus built a foundation for him. And they used a low-bed trailer to transport the building.

“But the posts on the bridge across the Tsolum River were blocking our passage,” he said. “So they cut the top off the posts to get the cabin across — no one ever knew.”

While the protective covenant covers the whole property, Brant’s cabin and the road to it will be held by a private society comprising members of his Hermitage Advisory Committee. The group helped Brandt navigate the complex legal paperwork required, and to assist in raising the $20,000 to pay for it.

The possibility remains for a new hermit to someday live in the cabin.

“It wouldn’t necessarily have to be a monk, it could be someone with a little monastic training and an environmentalist,” he said.


Brandt has supported himself mostly through bookbinding, a skill he first learned at the Gethsemani Abbey and later perfected at an Iowa monastery. But it was his interest in learning more about archival paper conservation that changed his life.

Through a friend, he left the hermitage to study paper at the New England Document Center in Massachusetts, and quickly rose to the head of its bindery division within a year. That led to an offer from a bindery in Ascona, Switzerland, where he went to learn more about paper and binding. And that, in turn, created an offer to work as a conservator on many of Canada’s art treasures at the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa, where he spent five years and earned a small pension. From there, Brandt moved to Winnipeg to set up an conservation centre for the provincial government.

He lived away from his Oyster River hermitage from 1973 to 1984, an absence he likens to St. Paul, who travelled building tents.

“I bound books,” he said.

Brandt found bookbinding to fit perfectly with his contemplative lifestyle.

“I found it very meditative, especially sewing the book together. It’s very relaxing,” he said. “And I was preserving humanity, its culture, something I thought quite worthwhile.”

Next steps

As Brandt prepares for the end of life, he’s trying to get all of his affairs in order. Yet, he’s troubled by a few things.

He’s unsure what will happen to his collection of 20,000 digital photographs and his “stacks of slides” that contain images chronicling his time as a hermit.

“Whoever moves in here will need to catalog them,” he said. “They might be historically valuable in time.”

But with his 96th birthday looming on Feb. 19, his biggest concern centers on his driver’s licence. It’s a topic his doctor has raised.

“They (doctors) hold immense power,” he said. “Not being able to drive would hold me down.”

After two hours of conversation, Brandt apologized for ending our interview. He had an important meeting in Campbell River. So, refusing help to descend his deck stairs, the nearly 96-year-old bookbinder and hermit-priest climbed into his Westfalia van and drove off.





Hermit, also called Eremite, one who retires from society, primarily for religious reasons, and lives in solitude. In Christianity the word (from Greek erēmitēs, “living in the desert”) is used interchangeably with anchorite, although the two were originally distinguished on the basis of location: an anchorite selected a cell attached to a church or near a populous centre, while a hermit retired to the wilderness.

The first Christian hermits appeared by the end of the 3rd century in Egypt, where one reaction to the persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Decius was flight into the desert to preserve the faith and to lead a life of prayer and penance. Paul of Thebes, who fled to the desert about 250, has been considered the first hermit.



Decafnation asked Chris Hilliar for his thoughts about Father Charles’ protection of his land and its potential gift to the public. Hilliar is a member of the Hermitage Advisory Committee

“No one who has known Father Charles will be surprised at the recent announcement of his gift of property as future parkland for the Comox Valley Regional District. This gift is, I think, the final expression of his love for the Earth. It is entirely in keeping with both his character and his philosophy of life. Seldom will you speak with Father Charles that at some point he won’t paraphrase Thomas Berry as saying that, “the human community and the natural world must come together in single sacred harmony or perish in the desert”. I think he believed this to the very core and he lived it too.

“The Hermitage as his house and land became known was his own privately owned property. Charles logged it. I do not think he thought his land should be a pristine wilderness devoid of the touch of mankind. Rather, I think he wanted to log his land to show that it could be done sustainably, that the forest could have trees removed and still be a healthy forest. I think he wanted to at least prove to himself that he could benefit from his property but still live in harmony with it and be a healthy member of its ecosystem.

“I think he achieved his goal. Whenever I visit Charles I always park my truck at the outer gate and walk the long, winding gravel road to his house. It is a contemplative walk and I intentionally breathe deeply and am mindful of my steps. By the time I reach the house I am calm and relaxed, (as I should be to visit a hermit priest). And this of course is a small part of the daily walk that Charles has taken on his property over the past decades. He walks, he communes with nature, and he lives his philosophy.

“People of the Comox Valley will benefit from his parkland gift for years to come, but Charles has also taken steps to ensure that the Hermitage will remain a house of contemplation after his passing. This too is a wonderful legacy for the Comox Valley.”



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More Environment

“Stinking” sewage plant wafts back onto CVRD agenda

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Herring fishery hurts bi-national orca recovery efforts

Herring fishery hurts bi-national orca recovery efforts

The  Hornby-Denman islands herring fishery in the 1980s  /  Bob Cain photo — View gallery below

By George Le Masurier

Killer whales that live, play and forage for food in the Salish Sea are starving to death. To help them, both sides of the U.S.-Canada Pacific Northwest border have launched multi-million dollar initiatives to increase the chinook salmon stocks that comprise 80 percent of the orcas’ diet.

But the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ plans to undercut those international efforts have baffled orca conservation organizations.

FURTHER READING: Canada and Washington state announce orca recovery programs

In March, the DFO has scheduled a massive industrial kill of the small silver Pacific herring in the Denman and Hornby island area. It’s the last remaining significant herring spawning area in the Pacific Northwest, from Alaska to Washington state.

Conservancy Hornby Island has asked the federal government to close the herring roe fishery planned for next month. Pacific Wild, a conservation voice dedicated to ensuring preservation of the Great Bear Rainforest, has demanded termination of the fishery.

Grant Scott, spokesperson for the Hornby Island group, says the the DFO has failed to consider the impact of the herring fishery on the entire Salish Sea ecosystem.

The diet of the endangered and declining populations of southern resident Killer Whales consists of 80 percent chinook salmon. And the diet of salmon consists of 80 percent Pacific herring.

“It doesn’t take a scientist to make the important link between herring and killer whales,” Scott said in a statement to Decafnation. “Wouldn’t it make sense to leave this stock alone to hopefully rebuild all the herring schools on our coast and the marine life that needs them for survival?”

Scott said discontinuing the fishery wouldn’t harm anyone.

The industry now supports few jobs or taxes for the province. In the mid-1980s, commercial fishermen were awash in profits when herring earned up to $5,000 per ton. Today, the price ranges from $150 to $700 per ton, because Japanese taste for the delicacy has faded.

According to BC Ministry of Agriculture data, the herring fishery was valued at $309 million in 1995 (adjusted for inflation), but only $58 million in 2017 for the same tonnage of fish.

But that isn’t the worst impact of continuing the herring fishery.

“Ninety percent of the herring are ground up for fish farm food and pet food.” he said. “Using wild fish for non-human consumption is illegal under the federal Fisheries Act. When 90 percent of the herring is used for fish farm and pet food is the federal Minister of Fisheries breaking the law?”

The DFO doesn’t exactly have a good track record of managing the herring population. It’s policies have lead to the closure of four of the six major herring stocks on the BC coast in the last 20 years, according to Scott, who is a former commercial fisher. Basically, herring have declined because they’ve been overfished.

The DFO set a top limit for killing 28,000 tons of spawning herring in the upcoming March opening. That’s the rough equivalent of 200 million fish.

Scott says Conservancy Hornby Island believes this last productive spawning ground will get overfished this year, and that will impact other species, such as salmon and Killer Whales.

“We are asking for our politicians’ support in closing down the herring roe fishery, or at least closing the senine roe fishery in the Strait of Georgia, especially around Hornby and Denman islands,” Scott said.

According to the Hornby group, Vancouver businessman Jimmy pattison owns most of the seine boats working the coast.

Historically abundant fish

An archeology study of fish bones on the Pacific Northwest coast found that herring was the region’s most abundant fish dating back 10,000 years.

But herring stocks started to decline for the first time in the late 1800s when the industrial fish kill began. A Simon Fraser University study concluded that spawning patterns and population decline had been altered by 1910.

And yet, DFO has increased the number of herring allowed to be caught.

According to Pacific Wild’s website, Denman-Hornby will be the only area fished in 2019. But while the “coast-wide catch has declined with herring abundance in the last 30 years, the quantity of fish taken from the Salish Sea has more than doubled,” the organization says.

Scott says that although the DFO claims to manage herring according to the principles of Ecosystem Based Management. But the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, which evaluates ecological sustainability of wild-caught seafood in North America, thinks otherwise.

In its 2016 evaluation of the herring fishery, the program said, “Currently (DFO) management of the herring fisheries does not account for ecosystem considerations when determining abundance (or) allowable catch. As herring is an important source of food for a variety of species, the lack of ecosystem considerations … in the fisheries’ overall management warrants a score of ‘high’ concern.”

Canadian and Washington state governments might be wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on orca recovery programs to increase salmon stocks, if the salmon themselves don’t have enough food to sustain even current population levels.






Pacific herring prefer spawning locations in sheltered bays and estuaries. Conditions that trigger spawning are not altogether clear, but after spending weeks congregating in the deeper channels, both males and females will begin to enter shallower inter-tidal or sub-tidal waters. Submerged vegetation, especially eelgrass, is a preferred substrate for oviposition. A single female may lay as many as 20,000 eggs in one spawn following ventral contact with submerged substrates. However, the juvenile survival rate is only about one resultant adult per 10,000 eggs, due to high predation by numerous other species.

The precise staging of spawning is not understood, although some researchers suggest the male initiates the process by release of milt, which has a pheromone that stimulates the female to begin oviposition. The behavior seems to be collective so that an entire school may spawn in the period of a few hours, producing an egg density of up to 6,000,000 eggs per square meter. The fertilized spherical eggs, measuring 1.2 to 1.5 millimeters in diameter, incubate for approximately 10 days in estuarine waters that are about 10 degrees Celsius. Eggs and juveniles are subject to heavy predation.

— Wikipedia


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Will US/Canada recovery plans do enough to save orcas?

Will US/Canada recovery plans do enough to save orcas?

A Killer Whale cruising the British Columbia coastline

By George Le Masurier

Marine biologists can’t say with certainty why one of the endangered southern resident killer whales swam up the Courtenay River this fall, an unusual behavior, but there’s a good chance it was scouting for salmon. The southern resident orcas that inhabit the Salish Sea waters around Vancouver Island are starving.

The population of southern orcas has dwindled to 74, and experts expect two more of the whales to die by summer. Although a new calf was recently born, no newborns have survived since 2015, and 73 have either died or gone missing since 1998.

Saving the orcas will take a complex mixture of conservation actions, according to Les Purce, former president of The Evergreen State College, who co-chaired the recently completed Washington State Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery and Task Force.

The task force identified the three major threats to the southern orcas as primarily a lack of chinook salmon, their primary food source, but also vessel noise and toxic contaminants from stormwater runoff.

“Issues facing orcas are a metaphor for the whole Salish Sea ecosystem and the effect on aquatic and human life,” he told Decafnation by phone. “We must take it seriously and move in that kind of alliance.”

And to be effective, he said, the U.S. and Canada must coordinate their efforts.

U.S. versus Canada

So far, Canada and the U.S. appear to be taking different approaches toward the same goal.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee has proposed a $1.1 billion orca recovery plan based on the 36 recommendations of the task force. Whether the state legislature, which just reconvened, will approve it all remains to be seen.

Canada’s federal government set aside just $167.4 million spread among recovery measures for three whale species, the southern resident orcas, the St. Lawrence Estuary belugas and the North Atlantic right whales. But Ottawa later added $61.5 million specifically for the killer whales.

Washington’s task force proposed a variety of measures to reduce contaminants in stormwater runoff, such as a ban on products containing polychorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Canada has not addressed stormwater contamination.

But stormwater is a major issue. Salmon absorb toxins– like PCBs, and PDBEs found in flame retardants — and when orcas eat them the toxins build up in their fatty tissues. Once metabolized, they are shared from mother to newborn calves via gestation and lactation.

But both countries say they are aligned on commitments to reduce vessel noise.

Noise travels five times faster in water than in air, and interferes with the whales’ echolocation, which they use to navigate and hunt for prey.

Washington’s Gov. Inslee has proposed a three-year ban on whale watching. But neither Ottawa or the B.C. government has shown an appetite for a similar measure.

The Canadian transportation minister did impose a new rule requiring all vessels to stay at least 200 metres away from killer whales. But conservation groups question if that’s enough to have a significant impact.

Five Canadian conservation groups joined a petition last fall asking Ottawa to ban whale watching or any commercial vessels from pursuing orcas in their summer feeding grounds. They say the 200-metre buffer zone doesn’t mitigate the disturbance to orcas’ ability to locate prey.

And neither country has addressed the impact of increased oil tanker traffic if Ottawa completes the TransMountain pipeline, which would bring a 10-fold increase in traffic and noise.

Washington task force co-chair Purce said a state senator raised the issue of increased tanker traffic, but there was no specific recommendation.

Canada’s whale recovery initiative includes a voluntary requirement for a vessel slowdown in Haro Strait to reduce engine noise. But they are working with BC Ferries on a noise management plan.

Lack of prey

“The southern orcas are starving. There aren’t enough salmon,” Purce said. So increasing the whale’s preferred food stock of chinook salmon is a priority for both countries.

To boost stocks, Canada has cut the chinook salmon fishery by more than 25 percent. And it has created sanctuary areas in locations orcas normally forage for food, closing them to all fishing and other regulations.

The main sanctuary is a 5,000 square kilometre critical habitat zone off the southwest coast of the island that includes the Swiftsure and La Perouse banks. It will likely have a negative economic impact on commercial and recreational fishing and tourism operations in coastal communities like Ucluelet.

A former senior official in the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Brian Riddell, recently told the Vancouver Sun that there’s no question the whales are struggling in terms of diet.

“We have to make a major change. If the decision is that Southern Resident orcas are the priority for recovery, then we’ll have to provide additional food and other actions as well,” he told the Sun.

Both Washington’s task force and Canada’s DFO have identified a complex set of issues affecting salmon populations, including habitat, availability of forage fish for chinook, hydro dams and other fish passage barriers, growth in predators like harbor seals and sea lions, fishing limits and the ability of hatcheries to increase production without creating genetic risks to wild fish.

Despite Canada’s commitment to increasing chinook populations, the federal DFO still plans to open the last remaining herring roe fishery off Denman and Hornby Islands in March. Several groups are fighting to have it closed, including the Conservancy Hornby organization. Read about this topic here.

Neither country has fully implemented its recovery plans.

Northern orcas thriving

There are more than 300 northern resident orcas, or about four times as many as their southern cousins.

While they both feed on chinook salmon, the northern whales have cleaner waters, less vessel noise disruption and less competition for the food. There are also more fish from three major salmon producing rivers, while the southern orcas count on mainly the Fraser River, with a little help from the Columbia River.

“If one system is bad … our northern residents have the opportunity to shift their focus to fish returning to another system,” Lance Barrett-Lenard, a marine biologist, told CBC news.

But northern whales could eventually face the same fate as the southern orcas if chinook stocks continue to decline. And, it’s possible they could even take over the southern group’s territory.

Disclosure: Thomas “Les” Purce is a friend of the author from their overlapping careers in Olympia, Washington.







COMMON NAME: Orca (Killer Whale)
TYPE: Mammals
DIET: Carnivores
SIZE: 23 to 32 ft
WEIGHT: Up to 6 tons


Orcas, or killer whales, are the largest of the dolphins and one of the world’s most powerful predators. They feast on marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, and even whales, employing teeth that can be four inches long. They are known to grab seals right off the ice. They also eat fish, squid, and seabirds.

Though they often frequent cold, coastal waters, orcas can be found from the polar regions to the Equator.

Orcas hunt in deadly pods, family groups of up to 40 individuals. There appear to be both resident and transient pod populations of orcas. These different groups may prey on different animals and use different techniques to catch them. Resident pods tend to prefer fish, while transient pods target marine mammals. All pods use effective, cooperative hunting techniques that some liken to the behavior of wolf packs.
Whales make a wide variety of communicative sounds, and each pod has distinctive noises that its members will recognize even at a distance. They use echolocation to communicate and hunt, making sounds that travel underwater until they encounter objects, then bounce back, revealing their location, size, and shape.

Orcas are protective of their young, and other adolescent females often assist the mother in caring for them. Mothers give birth every three to 10 years, after a 17-month pregnancy.

Orcas are immediately recognizable by their distinctive black-and-white coloring and are the intelligent, trainable stars of many aquarium shows. Orcas have never been extensively hunted by humans.



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Are Neonicotinoids really just the new DDT?

Are Neonicotinoids really just the new DDT?

George Le Masurier photo

By Stephen Leahy

Scientists have linked both the collapse of bee populations and the stunning decline in bird and bat numbers to a new generation of insecticides called neonicotinoids.

It gets worse: these widely-used nerve poisons are also considered the main cause of a general collapse of insect life since the mid 1990s. Bug-spattered windshields have become rare where they were once common in North America and Europe.

One result is that insect-eating birds are starving, especially their young. In a new study published in the science journal Nature, Dutch researchers linked the steady decline of warblers, skylarks, sparrows, and starlings and other birds to the introduction of imidacloprid, the most commonly used neonicotinoid, in the late 1990s. Regions with the heaviest levels of this nerve poison in soil and water had the biggest declines in bird numbers that eat and rely on insects during the breeding season.

“It’s the new DDT but different,” said Ole Hendrickson, a former scientist at Environment Canada and member of the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides that did an exhaustive examination of every scientific study on these insecticides – more than 800 in all. The task force is a group of 50 independent scientists from more than a dozen countries.

“Instead of wiping out the top of the food chain, killing hawks and eagles as DDT did, neonics are wiping out the bottom of the food chain,” says Hendrickson. “Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson once said if we wipe out the world’s insects, we will soon follow them to extinction.”


They Are Everywhere

Neonicotinoids are used everywhere: in homes, gardens, farms, greenhouses, orchards, parks, and forests. They’re in flea and tick control for pets, in lawn and garden products and, shockingly, ornamental plants, including “bee-friendly” plants, sold at garden centres.

In June, a Friends of the Earth Canada study showed that over half of ‘bee-friendly’ home garden plants sold in garden centres have been pre-treated with neonicotinoid pesticides. The Gardeners Beware 2014 report revealed that some flowers contained levels high enough to kill bees outright. They also have sub-lethal neurological affects on bees which impacts their behaviour and health.

Imidacloprid was first used in eastern Canada in 1995 to control the Colorado potato beetle. Today if a product says it will kill insects there’s a good chance it contains one of seven neonicotinoids: acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam. They’re found in products with trade names like Admire, Gaucho, Merit, and Aloft. (A list of products containing neonicotinoids can be found on the website for the US Center for Food Safety, www.centerforfoodsafety.org)

Most crops grown in Canada and the US contain neonicotinoids. Contain means every part of a corn, soy, wheat or potato plant contains the nerve toxin. Neonicotinoids are used to coat seeds or applied to the soil. As crops grow, they incorporate the toxin making them poisonous to any insect that nibbles on them anywhere, including roots, pollen, nectar, sap and even dead leaves. They’re also in the food we eat and often in the water we drink.


Toxic Effects

These insecticides are “5,000 to 10,000 times more toxic than DDT,” said Task Force member Jean-Marc Bonmatin of The National Centre for Scientific Research in France.
If a bird eats a couple of treated seeds it will likely die.

Only 5% of the neonicotinoid on a treated seed ends up in the plant, according to another report in Nature. Approximately 1% is blown away as dust during planting, leaving all the rest in the soil and soil water where the chemical accumulates and readily washes into waterways.

The first extensive study looking at the impact on rivers and streams in the US mid-west was published in July. All rivers and streams tested were contaminated. Imidacloprid is known to be toxic to aquatic organisms in incredibly small amounts of just 10 nanograms per litre. That’s like 10 drops of detergent in enough dishwater to fill a string of railroad tank cars ten miles long. It was found in rivers at concentrations of 42.7 nano grams per litre.

Neonicotinoids move readily in water run-off both on the surface and below ground and are taken up by roots of plants in hedgerows or woods near farm fields or other areas where they’re used. This makes all kinds of plants and even trees toxic to any insect that eats it. These toxins can remain active in soils for years and accumulate.

“They’re [neonicotinoids] dangerous and probably should be banned,” said Bonmatin. However, the official position of the Task Force is to ask governments to restrict their use.

The loss of honey bee colonies known as colony collapse disorder (CCD) is widespread wherever there is heavy use of neonicotinoids.

“There is no question that neonics [neonicotinoids] are behind colony collapse disorder,” said Chensheng (Alex) Lu, associate professor of environmental exposure biology at Harvard School of Public Health. Lu has conducted studies showing that bees exposed to low doses of the nerve poison resulted in less than half of colonies surviving the winter.


Regulating Neonicotinoids

Ontario and Quebec are considering restrictions following recent years where beekeepers have lost 50 to 70% of their hives. Nearly 60% of hives did not survive this year’s winter in Ontario reducing yields of a wide number of crops. When it comes to our food, one bite in three is the result of the efforts of bees and other insect pollinators.
Ontario has proposed a requirement that growers obtain a license to apply neonicotinoids, possibly for 2015. The pesticide industry is strongly lobbying against any action.

Europe placed a two-year moratorium on use of two neonicotinoids in April 2013, because of the impact on bees. The US and Canada are currently reviewing the chemicals to determine if any restrictions are needed. In August Canadian environmental groups called on the federal and provincial governments to ban them based on the results of the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides.

“Neonicotinoids persist for a long time in soil and leach and end up in our waterways. We are concerned about their large-scale use and impacts on human health and ecosystems,” said Sidney Ribaux, executive director of Équiterre, a Quebec-based environmental group.

Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) acknowledges there are impacts on bees and asked farmers to use safer seed planting methods, mainly reducing “seed dust” which releases 1% of the insecticide. It is continuing to review these chemicals and may take further action. PMRA noted that 89% of Canadians who commented support a ban. An interim report will be issued in 2015, with a final report due in 2016 or 2017.
“PMRA is only looking at the impacts on bee health. That’s not what we’re really concerned about with these insecticides,” said Task Force member Hendrickson.

The Task Force’s studies show that bees aren’t the hardest hit. It is other insects, especially those that live in or near the soil, as well as valuable species like earthworms. The impacts on human health aren’t known because there have been very few studies, he said.

Stephen Leahy is an independent environmental journalist. This article originally appeared in the Watershed Sentinel, and is reprinted here with permission as part of a collaboration between the two publications.








Beekeepers use smoke to calm bees when they are collecting honey or relocating a hive.

Bees make honey to feed their young and so they have something to eat during the winter.

Killer bees have been known to chase people for over a 1/4 mile once they get excited and aggressive.

Certain species of bees die after stinging because their stingers, which are attached to their abdomen, have little barbs or hooks on them.

When this type of bee tries to fly away after stinging something, part of the abdomen is ripped away.

There are about 20,000 different species of bees in the world. Bees live in colonies that contain the queen bee, the worker bee and the drone. The worker bee and the queen bee are both female, but only the queen bee can reproduce. All drones are male. Worker bees clean the hive, collecting pollen and nectar to feed the colony and they take care of the offspring. The drone’s only job is to mate with the queen. The queen’s only job is to lay eggs.

Bees store their venom in a sac attached to their stinger and only female bees sting. That is because the stinger, called an ovipositor, is part of the female bee’s reproductive design. A queen bee uses her ovipositor to lay eggs as well as sting. Sterile females, also called worker bees, don’t lay eggs. They just use their ovipositors to sting.

Bees see all colors except the color red. That and their sense of smell help them find the flowers they need to collect pollen. Not only is pollen a food source for bees, but also some of the pollen is dropped in flight, resulting in cross pollination. The relationship between the plant and the insect is called symbiosis.



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