Our fisheries are as badly managed as our forests

Dr. Trevor Hancock

20 October 2020

702 words

Here is an astounding statistic: Of the roughly 196,000 tonnes of wild seafood harvested by BC fishers in 2018, worth about $476 million, around 85 percent is exported, reported Marc Fawcett-Atkinson in an article in The National Observer in September. Meanwhile, “like most of Canada, [BC] imports between 70 and 90 per cent of the seafood British Columbians eat, according to federal data”. That seems to me more than a bit crazy; it may make some sort of weird economic sense, but does it strike you as common sense?

This and much else herein about the BC fishery came from what I think of as ‘the other Suzuki Foundation’ – the T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation. (Actually, for historical accuracy, they were the original Suzuki Foundation, and the better-known David Suzuki Foundation had to get permission to use the name.)

Tatsuro “Buck” Suzuki was born on the Fraser River to a family of Japanese-Canadian fishermen in 1915. While initially interred along with other Japanese-Canadians in 1941, he was later recruited as as an intelligence officer by the British Army. He helped to investigate war crimes in India and Singapore, before returning to B.C. in 1947. Once home, he played a major role in reconciling Japanese-Canadian fishermen with the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union (UFAWU). He remained an activist in the Union and worked to protect fish habitat until he died in 1977. The Foundation was set up by members of the UFAWU in 1981 to continue his legacy.

The Foundation is committed not only to protecting the fish and their habitat, but the fish harvesters and their communities. Their vision is “a future of abundant, sustainable fisheries and healthy ecosystems that support thriving coastal communities in BC”. Many of those communities, of course, are First Nations communities, with generations of experience in managing and harvesting the ocean’s bounty.

In a presentation to Conversations for a One Planet region in February 2019, Jim McIsaac, the Executive Director of the Foundation noted “Fisheries are arguably the most sustainable food source on our planet – we don’t have to water or feed them, weed or till the soil, add fertilizer or pesticides, we just have to harvest sustainably”. And wild fish, the Foundation points out on its website, “is local, sustainable, and healthy food”. But oddly “this is often overlooked in the creation of fisheries and food policy, in marine governance processes, and in environmental activism”.

Along with Ecotrust Canada and others, the Foundation is one of the key players in the Fisheries for Communities network, which brings together Indigenous and non-Indigenous fish harvesters, small businesses, fishmongers, chefs, restaurateurs, fishing families, community organizations and citizens. Collectively, the website states, they have “grown tired and frustrated watching the many social, cultural, and economic benefits of our fisheries increasingly flowing to outside investors and large scale global corporations at the cost of local fishing families and communities”.

According to a 2018 report by the Foundation and Ecotrust Canada, this is the result of “a conscious policy choice to corporatize and consolidate  . . . (which) has concentrated econom­ic gains in the hands of a few investors” – and they don’t even need to be in the fishing business. The federal policy, the report says, is the antithesis of factors found in the world’s most successful fisheries, including requiring that licences or quotas be held by owner-operators; preventing processing or non-fishing companies from owning licences or quotas; not allowing the leasing, trading or sale of quota to non-harvesters, and managing the fishery with harvesters (who must be members of a cooperative or fish harvester organization) and their community.

The neglect of BC’s coastal fishing communities is not confined to the federal government, although it is the principal player. In speaking with The National Observer, Jim McIsaac noted  “The pre-election Stronger BC report didn’t mention fisheries, seafood, ocean, marine or coastal. It could have been written for Saskatchewan. Very surprising for a coastal province.” 

So if like me you think we need a vibrant and sustainable local fishery and that it should priorise providing healthy wild seafood for local consumption, you may want to check out and support the work of the T.Buck Suzuki Foundation and the Fisheries for Communities network.

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

thancock@uvic.ca

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy

Our forests are more than mere resources

Our forests are more than mere resources

Dr. Trevor Hancock

13 October 2020

701 words

Last week I explored how poorly governments of all stripes have been, at all levels, in protecting nature – and thus in protecting us. British Columbia is renowned for its forests, Pacific coast and mountains and is often portrayed as a resource-rich province. So one of the tests of any government, you would think, is how well it stewards those resources.

On that basis, every government the province has ever had, as well as every government Canada has ever had (since to some extent the jurisdiction over these resources is shared), has been a miserable failure, if not a downright disaster. In general, they are more interested in protecting industry and the current economic system than in protecting nature and people. This week and next I will explore two examples that exemplify that failure in BC: The management of our forests and our fisheries.

In July 2019 the BC government appointed a 2-person panel to do a strategic review of the management of BC’s old-growth forests. Their report – sent to the Minister on April 30th but only released September 11th – is damning. They note that an Old Growth Strategy was published by the Ministry of Forests in 1992, but that “many critical aspects of the strategy laid out in that report were either discarded or only partly implemented”.

As a result of those repeated failures, the panel reported, we now face three key challenges, the first of which is the “high risk to loss of biodiversity in many ecosystems”. Forest values, they remind us, “go far beyond just the trees, as forests also contain other plants, insects and animals, many of which require old forest to survive”. Yet they note projections that show “almost all of the province will be in high biodiversity risk once our current management approach harvests most of the available old forest”.

While the panel notes that ‘old growth’ is officially defined in BC “by the age of trees in a forest using specific thresholds (often over 250 years on the coast and 140 years in the Interior)”, that is a timber management definition they did not adopt. Instead, they note that in their discussions with stakeholders “a common description was that old growth is original forest in its natural state, not altered by human activity”. And of course, for many, ‘old growth’ means big trees.

These are important distinctions. Based on its forest management definition, the Ministry says that 23 percent of BC’s forests are old trees. But as the panel states, “old does not necessarily mean big trees”, noting that “as much as 80 percent of the area of old forests consists of relatively small trees growing on lower productivity sites, such as Black Spruce bogs in the North” – forests that are “not likely to be extensively logged in the foreseeable future”.

Large tree old-growth forest ecosystems, “sites with the potential to grow very large trees cover less than 3 percent of the province”, says an independent report released by the Sierra Club of BC in April. But those sites have been intensively harvested, so these ecosystems “are almost extinguished and will not recover from logging”.  And, added the Sierra Club, of what remains “most are on the chopping block” as “every day more than 500 soccer fields of old-growth forest are clearcut in BC”.

The Strategic review panel recommends a shift from a timber-based focus with ecological health as a constraint” to “an ecologically-based focus with timber as one of many benefits”. To accomplish this they recommend the province “Declare the conservation and management of ecosystem health and biodiversity of British Columbia’s forests as an overarching priority”. They also recommend the province “defer development in old forests where ecosystems are at very high and near-term risk of irreversible biodiversity loss”.  

But while the Sierra Club welcomed the panel’s report, especially its recommendation to defer development, the Club notes “the B.C. Government has not committed to implementing nor funding the Panel’s recommendations and . . . only identified 9 areas for immediate deferral”.

It is shameful that it has come to this point, as successive governments have failed to adequately protect our forests. The next government must commit to fully implementing and funding the panel’s report.

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

thancock@uvic.ca

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy

In failing nature, governments fail us

Dr. Trevor Hancock

7 October 2020

700 words

There is a wonderful scene in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance that brings to mind our governments’ approach to protecting nature. The pompous police sergeant and his timid and fearful constables are marching up and down declaring they are off to fight the pirates. But as an exasperated Major General bursts out “Yes, but you don’t go!”

Too often, governments say “We’re going to act, we’re going to act” – but then they don’t act! For all their protestations, they still treat nature as if it were a collection of resources put there for us to exploit, rather than the vital underpinnings of our health and wellbeing, indeed our very existence, as well as that of all the other species with which we share the Earth.

The vital importance of nature for health is recognised by the World Health Organization in its recent “Manifesto for a healthy and green COVID-19 recovery”. The first of its six ‘prescriptions’ is to “protect and preserve the source of human health: Nature”. But two important global reports at the end of September make it abundantly clear we are failing to do so.

The first was Global Biodiversity Outlook 5, published by the UN’s Montreal-based Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The report is blunt: “Biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate, and the pressures driving this decline are intensifying. None of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets will be fully met”.

The second is the bi-annual Living Planet Report, published by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF). The WWF’s Living Planet Index monitors the abundance of almost 21,000 populations of 4,392 vertbrate species. Between 1970 and 2016 it declined worldwide by a profoundly disturbing 68 percent – and an horrific 94 percent in central and south America. And this was the status 4 years ago, I shudder to think what it is today.

So it was good news that on the eve of the UN’s Summit on Biodiversity last month, leaders from 76 countries – including Justin Trudeau – signed the WWF’s Leaders’ Pledge for Nature. There are fine words in the Pledge, beginning with this: “We are in a state of planetary emergency: the interdependent crises of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation and climate change – driven in large part by unsustainable production and consumption – require urgent and immediate global action”.

The Pledge includes ten commitments by which countries “will achieve the vision of Living in Harmony with Nature by 2050” Moreover, alone among the world’s ten largest countries, Canada has committed to WWF’s “30 by 30” High Ambition Coalition to “raise the government’s already announced intention to protect 25 per cent of Canada’s lands and waters by 2025 to now reach 30 per cent protected areas by 2030”.

Which sounds impressive, but it is actions that count, not words. So while WWF Canada’s separately published Living Planet Report Canada 2020 shows an overall increase of 6 percent since 1970 for the 883 native vertebrate species it monitors, that is not the case for species assessed as at risk of extinction. The populations of these species, which include all animals (so invertebrates are counted) and plants, “have plunged by an average of 59 per cent and species assessed as globally at risk have seen their Canadian populations fall by an average of 42 per cent” – and again, this is only to 2016.

The situation in BC is also grim. In an August 2020 article in The Narwhal, Susan Cox reported: “Almost 1,340 species are now on B.C.’s red and blue lists of species at risk of extinction. Another 1,037 species meet the provincial status requirements for red and blue listings but have not yet been added”.

But worryingly there is no Species at Risk Act (SARA) in BC, in spite of Auditor-General reports in 1993 and 2013 pointing out the problems. Moreover, Cox stated: “Although the governing NDP made an election promise to enact endangered species legislation — a pledge upheld in Premier John Horgan’s mandate letter for Environment Minister George Heyman — it subsequently reneged on its commitment”.

In failing to bring in SARA, and more generally to protect nature, BC’s governments, including this one, have repeatedly failed us. Remember that when you vote on October 24th.

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

thancock@uvic.ca

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy

Counting down the Climate Clock

Counting down the Climate Clock

Dr. Trevor Hancock

29 September 2020

700 words

Climate Clocks are now appearing around the world in cities such as Berlin, New York and Oslo. Based on data from Germany’s Mercator Institute, they display two numbers: One counts down “how long it will take, at current rates of emissions, to burn through our “carbon budget” — the amount of CO2 that can still be released into the atmosphere while limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” The second number tracks growth in the share of global energy supplies that come from renewable energy.

Bear with me, there are plenty of numbers here, but they are vitally important and in essence quite simple, with profound implications for our climate and energy policies, and I have not seen the implications for Canada presented as I do here.

The concept of the carbon budget comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In its October 2018 Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, the IPCC found “the atmosphere can absorb . . . no more than 420 gigatonnes (Gt or billion tonnes) of CO2 if we are to stay below the 1.5°C threshold”, and about 1,170 Gt to stay below the 2°C threshold.

But that was from the end of 2017, almost three years ago. When I checked the Mercator Institute’s Climate Clock on September 27th, the allowable global emissions are down to 305 Gt for the 1.5°C threshold and 1,055 Gt for 2°C, giving us just 7 years 3 months and 25 years 1 month respectively at current rates of burning.

Canada is just one-200th of the global population, which means our fair share of the global carbon budget is about 1.5 and 5.25 Gt if we want to stay below 1.50C  or 20C warming respectively. The Canadian Government reports that “Canada’s total GHG emissions in 2018 were 729 megatonnes [0.73 Gt] of carbon dioxide equivalent”. Although this includes non-CO2 emissions such as methane and nitrous oxides, 80 percent of this – 587 megatonnes – is carbon dioxide itself.

At current rates, to stay below 1.50C warming, we have only 2.6 years before exceeding our fair share of CO2 emissions (and 2.1 years if we include all GHG emissions), while we have 9 years (or 7.2 years with all GHG emissions) to stay below 20C warming. The only way we can keep on as we are is if we continue to take way more than our fair share of the global carbon budget.

So forget all the cosy words from politicians of almost all stripes (but not those with green stripes) about how well we are doing and why we should embrace fracking and coal exports for LNG in BC and the tarsands in Alberta. This is a climate emergency and we are on course for disaster unless we rapidly phase out fossil fuels.

Which is why the global Countdown initiative is so important, especially here in Canada. Countdown is “a global initiative to champion and accelerate solutions to the climate crisis, turning ideas into action. The goal: To build a better future by cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030”. Specifically it is counting down to the next UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), to be held in Edinburgh in October 2021.

Led by TED (the folks who bring you Ted Talks) and Future Stewards, with Christiana Figueres and Tom Carnac, the architects of the Paris Climate Agreement, playing a leading role, Countdown launches with a large global TED event on Saturday October 10th. You will hear from a wide range of global leaders about what a healthy, abundant, zero-emission future can look like.

In the week following the launch, there will be a series of Countdown TED events around the world to highlight local action. One of those will be here in BC, organised by BC Drawdown, the BC ‘chapter’ of Project Drawdown, which has identified “the 80 most substantive, existing solutions to address climate change, as well as 20 coming solutions”. Here in Victoria, Creatively United is a key partner along with Conversations for a One Planet Region in presenting local leaders and stories. CreativelyUnited.org will feature an online preview on Wed., Oct. 7th, from 11- noon, prior to the BC Countdown event, 7-9 pm Wednesday, Oct. 14th.

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

thancock@uvic.ca

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy