The Great Bear Sea
Many First Nations settlements along the coastal shores of the Great Bear Sea date back thousands of years. Today, there are 64 communities living next to this sea, half of which are First Nation communities. These waters are central to the cultures and economies of these communities, providing them with food, jobs, recreation, transport corridors, and many more benefits.
Haida Gwaii Communities
North Coast Communities
Central Coast Communities
North Vancouver Island Communities
The “blue economy” (economic sectors with links to the ocean and coasts) includes fisheries, tourism, and shipping. To benefit coastal communities, these industries depend on a healthy ocean. Growing the blue economy requires a commitment to ocean protection.
Commercial fisheries contribute $1.5 billion per year to the BC economy. They require healthy and abundant fish stocks. Over decades of commercial fishing harvesting, fish stocks in BC are at much lower levels of abundance than they were historically. Commercial fisheries can result in overharvesting and destructive practices that deplete stocks, destroy fish habitats, and endanger the longevity of fisheries.
Well managed marine protected areas can quadruple fish populations in only a decade and increase the abundance and body size of commercially-targeted species. With the “spillover effect”, these larger and more numerous fish move from protected areas replenishing neighbouring fishable waters.
BC has a reputation for being one of the greatest sport fishing destinations in the world. About 300,000 license holders participate in tidal recreational fishing on the coast. The most important recreational fishing species are Pacific salmon and bottom fish like halibut. Marine protected areas can help provide healthy and abundant populations of fish for this sector and be a key economic driver.
The remote wilderness, unique culture, and spectacular ocean vistas of the Pacific coast attract visitors from around the world. Coastal tourism – including Indigenous-led tourism – is one of the fastest growing sectors in the BC economy. The $5.8 billion in annual revenue that nature-based tourism and recreation brings in directly depends on healthy coastal ecosystems.
For example, the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation-owned and operated Spirit Bear Lodge employs nearly 10% of the local Central Coast population, particularly youth.
Watch: Spirit Bear.
Transportation is the largest sector of BC’s blue economy, bringing in $5.9 billion a year. The remote coastal communities in the Great Bear Sea region rely heavily on marine transportation for travel and access to goods and services. However, marine vessels impact ocean ecosystems with a number of stressors, including air and water pollution, marine accidents and spills, underwater noise, whale strikes, and ocean dumping. Well managed marine protected areas can reduce these impacts within their boundaries and help contribute to the use of better shipping practices elsewhere.
The ocean has always been an important and reliable source of food for people living along the Great Bear Sea region. Food from the sea is not only delicious; it’s also high in protein and packed with micronutrients that are not readily found in land-based foods.
Indigenous chef Roberta Olsen from “Keenawii’s Kitchen”, named after her Haida name ‘Keenawii’, offers her guests a cultural experience through the sharing of an authentic Haida meal. Each meal features multiple courses and traditional Haida foods cooked with ingredients that have been grown or caught on Haida Gwaii, including seafood like dried seaweed, salmon, and herring eggs on kelp.
RECREATION & OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES
The coast provides tourists with many outdoor adventure options. One of the most peculiar and eerie is a tour of Anyox – Canada’s largest Ghost Town. On the coast of the Observatory Inlet, Anyox is a quintessential example of a once thriving mining town turned abandoned ghost town, offering visitors a glimpse of the boom-and-bust cycle of BC’s early mining history.
First Nations have stewarded the lands and waters of the North Pacific Coast for thousands of years, according to their own laws and knowledge systems. Today, many First Nations work collaboratively with federal and provincial governments to advance conservation and sustainable resource management in the region and other parts of Canada. This includes collaborative efforts to develop Canada’s first-ever marine protected area network in the Great Bear Sea region.
Email us at [email protected] to let us know about other marine stewardship initiatives in the Great Bear Sea.
The North Pacific Coast is a vast area that faces a number of threats, including illegal forestry, recreation, fishing and hunting. The Coastal Guardian Watchmen play a critical role in stewarding these areas under Indigenous law, ensuring resources are sustainably managed, that rules and regulations are followed and that land and marine use agreements are implemented effectively.
Funded by the Province of BC in partnership with coastal communities and Indigenous Peoples, the Clean Coast, Clean Waters initiative aims to reduce plastic pollution, support healthy marine environments and create new jobs. To date, the initiative has already removed more than 1,000 tonnes of debris, including more than 250 tonnes of derelict vessels (86 vessels). The initiative has also recycled or upcycled 65% of material recovered from shoreline projects and cleaned nearly 4,000km of shoreline.
The Haida Nation was first to designate the Gwaii Haanas Haida Heritage Site in Haida Gwaii, including the marine area of what is now designated Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve (NMCAR) under Canadian legislation. Through the Gwaii Haanas Marine Agreement (2010), the Haida Nation partnered with the Government of Canada in the establishment of Gwaii Haanas NMCAR. The agreement expresses respect for Canadian and Haida interests and designations, and includes a mutual commitment to protect Gwaii Haanas. The 42-foot Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole on Lyell Island honors this ground-breaking achievement of cooperative management.
First Nations and other coastal communities are investing in the protection and restoration of salt marshes, eelgrass meadows, and kelp forests. These are known as “blue carbon habitats” because they store vast amounts of carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.
Eulachon plays an important role in the health and cultural well-being of many coastal First Nations. Aside from food, First Nations make grease from the oily fish, which is also known as “candlefish” because First Nations used the dried fish as a torch at night. The Nuxalk Sputc (Eulachon) Project aims to restore eulachon to historic populations and revitalize the cultural practices tied to it.
In a precedent-setting example of collaborative governance in action, First Nations on the Central Coast engaged with federal officials to close key fishing locations to enable Dungeness crab populations to recover. The species is culturally significant for the Nations.
Salmon are integral to the well-being of coastal ecosystems and communities, from feeding bears to nurturing forests and sustaining livelihoods, cultures and traditions. Coastal Guardian Creekwalkers aim to learn more about salmon populations (and recent declines), by visiting streams multiple times during spawning to count fish and provide detailed assessments of salmon returns.
Email [email protected] to let us know about other marine stewardship initiatives in the Great Bear Sea.
Humpback whales are making a comeback along the North Coast. The Gitga’at First Nation and whale researchers are working together to learn how to keep those surging populations healthy.
In May 2021, a long-term research partnership between Central Coast First Nations and Fisheries and Oceans Canada discovered a coral reef in Finlayson Channel – the first coldwater coral reef to be identified along the North Pacific Coast. Previously thought to be extinct in this region, it’s the first intact Lophelia pertusa reef found in Canada’s Pacific.
Rockfish have been fished as a reliable food source for centuries by First Nations. It’s now an important fishery for coastal BC. Collaborative research between Central Coast First Nations and others has led to increased knowledge and better management practices of this culturally important species.
Kelp species are sentinels of the health of marine environments. Monitoring kelp is critical to informing decision-making in marine conservation and management. The Regional Kelp Monitoring Project brings together experts from various collaborating initiatives to monitor the extent and condition of kelp forests across these waters.
The Benefits of a Marine
PROTECTED AREA NETWORK
Creating marine protected areas, and networks of MPAs that are strong, permanent and well-regulated is an essential step toward a healthy ocean. Let’s take a closer look at how marine protected areas and their networks can benefit both the ocean life within it and the communities that border them.