Marine environments are vulnerable to human exploitation, and Central Coast ecosystems are no different. Our territories have suffered from the effects of overfishing and other industries, like forestry, for decades. To preserve our Nations’ way of life, long-term conservation planning and monitoring of environmental changes are critical.
Just ask Ernie Tallio, who’s seen the cumulative impacts of industrial fishing around his home in Bella Coola, and through his monitoring work with Nuxalk Guardian Watchmen over the last six years. Ernie points to recent Dungeness crab surveys that he and other Nuxalk Guardians helped carry out with CCIRA, which clearly show negative effects on local crab populations from intensive commercial and sport fishing.
“When we conducted our first surveys in 2011, every pot was full and we were catching all kinds of large crabs,” says Ernie, who manages the four-person Nuxalk Guardian Watchmen team. “But the commercial fleet started increasing the number of pots going into the estuary—that really made a difference in populations, and made it harder for local Nuxalk and other residents to get any legal-sized crab.”
The Nuxalk monitoring results showed strong evidence of a population decline. In an effort to secure the Nation’s access to crab for food and economic opportunities, the Nuxalk closed specific areas to help the populations recover.
Building on the experience of the Nuxalk and others, Dungeness crab has now been chosen as one of 27 indicators being monitored by all our Nations in partnership with the Province through the Marine Plan Partnership (MaPP) initiative (Table 1).
Table 1. 27 pilot indicators have been divided into seven distinct themes that are important to our people. By tracking these indicators over time, we will be aware of changes to the marine environment and be better able to adapt our management decisions accordingly.
|Species & habitat||Salmon, Herring, Dungeness crab, Invasives (green crabs & tunicates), Groundfish, Eelgrass, Pyropia, Kelp, Estuary Health|
|Clean water||Contaminent levels, Marine spills, Trends in water quality|
|Climate change & oceanography||Compliance among resource users, Enforcement effort|
|Sense of place & wellbeing||Valuing culture, Seafood harvest, Protection of cultural|
|Seafoods||Regional seafood landings, Regional seafood processed locally, Toxic phytoplankton blooms,|
|Coastal development & livelihoods||Participation in the workforce, Vessel traffic, Regional wealth|
Watchmen critical for MaPP implementation
After years of work, the Nations and the Province completed MaPP marine use plans for the North and Central Coast, North Vancouver Island, and Haida Gwaii in 2015. MaPP’s vision is to sustain the vibrant ecosystems, local economies and cultures of the BC coast long into the future. Importantly, MaPP also promises more decisionmaking authority for coastal First Nations.
Implementation of the MaPP plans is now underway with our Guardian Watchmen playing a critical role. Significant resources have been devoted to training two new Watchmen for each Nation, as well as fuel, maintenance and other expenses to support them on the water. Our Watchmen are working to monitor the indicators from the MaPP plans – like crab – and others identified by each Nation.
An adaptive approach to marine management
MaPP planners know things will be adjusted as we learn more and as marine ecosystems change. This is why long-term monitoring of the key indicators is so important; it will provide baseline understanding of the natural and cultural environment, and track changes in those factors over time to inform management actions.
“The MaPP plans will follow an adaptive approach during implementation,” says Gord McGee, Marine Planner for CCIRA. “As knowledge and understanding improves for various species and habitats of concern, it may lead to different management approaches like we have seen occur with crab. MaPP partners will adjust their focus to respond to what we are learning from indicator monitoring and research.”
“The MaPP plans will follow an adaptive approach during implementation. MaPP partners will adjust their focus to respond to what we are learning from indicator monitoring and research.” Gord McGee, Marine Planner for CCIRA
Eyes and ears on the water
All four Central Coast Nations have been collecting data for each indicator and analyzing results to establish baselines and trends.
“From last February until mid-November, we patrolled more than 14,000 kilometres over 28 days and 139 patrols in total,” says Ernie Tallio, adding that his team’s Dungeness crab surveys were just one of many indictors the Nuxalk monitored. Those regular patrols, he says, provide a wealth of valuable information that help to inform collaborative marine management decisions with Provincial and Federal governments.
In addition to monitoring wildlife populations and overall ecosystem health, Tallio says the Guardian Watchmen also record data for boat sightings and vessel traffic. “We’ve also identified several important cultural sites in our territory that we visit on a regular basis,” he says. “When we pull up to boaters, we ask whether they’ve visited those sites, what they’re up to and how long they’ll be in the area.”
As MaPP implementation progresses, indictor monitoring—along with local and traditional knowledge—provides a strong foundation for evidence-based decision making, while ensuring more eyes and ears out on the land and sea. “Maintaining a presence in our territory is really important, and looking at key indicators helps us do that,” says Tallio. “So, yeah, it’s pretty important to us.”
Photo of water sampling by Tavish Campbell