Ucluelet community

A plea from Ucluelet to save their community

“Please Sirs, for the love of this community, the salmon and the whales, help me find a solution that benefits everyone in coastal communities,” – Lynette O’Brien


The coastal community of Ucluelet fears that Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) plan to close some salmon fisheries to save orca whales will crush its economy.

The town is pleading with DFO to have a closer look at its proposed recovery strategy.

Local reports said DFO has identified Swiftsure and La Perouse Banks as feeding areas for Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) and is considering designating the areas as critical habitats, which West Coast fishers fear could bring closures, particularly to the region’s recreational fishery.

“There is no doubt that, if the proposed critical habitat area was implemented today, Ucluelet would be placed into an economic crisis having major financial implications to the community,” Ucluelet Mayor Dianne St. Jacques (pictured) and her council wrote in their letter to DFO.

Lynette O’Brien, a First Nations resident of Ucluelet, has also mounted a petition campaign urging DFO to hear the voices of her community, and take into consideration some of the solutions they propose.

“Please Sirs, for the love of this community, the salmon and the whales, help me find a solution that benefits everyone in coastal communities,” she writes.

Here is her letter…

Dear Sir,

My name is Lynette O’Brien, and I have lived in the coastal community of Ucluelet since 1996. During this time, I have been fortunate to work mostly in a marine capacity (with some hospitality/tourism also!).

Last week I attended a meeting with DFO regarding the SRKWs and the Critical Habitat Area under the SARA. I was SO proud of all my friends that also work on the water! Not a single person disagreed that we need to help our SRKW. In fact, what I saw was largely solution based discussion. This made me proud, because this is a bunch of people facing the loss of their livelihoods, and EVERYONE wants to help. There was discussion about how to help our salmon, and beyond that, how to help the species that the salmon prey on. We, out there on the water, know that everything depends on something else, it is all interconnected. We want the chance to be ‘guardians’ of the resources we rely on, we care like no others!

I want to ask of you to please allow us to have that chance. To hear our voices, and take into consideration some of the solutions we propose. To look at the long term, to look at why these communities exist in the first place, and how the coastal peoples rely on the ocean and its bounty. There are many third generation fisherpeople here. My first Skipper was one of these people. His son, was one of my deckhands, so you see how it goes, generation after generation, we know nothing else.

I don’t know how to stop your process. I don’t know how to tell you that we, the people out there daily, care more than most. I don’t know how to fix these problems, but I, and others here have some very good ideas worth your time and consideration. Hear us out. Not in your ‘one minute’ of speaking allowed format; in more than that please, to allow the time for such an important issue.

The SRKWs are the most contaminated whales in the ocean. I learned this from NOAA. Do you believe that could be because they reside in areas where raw sewage is pumped into the ocean like Victoria and Seattle? Let’s stop doing that. Let’s treat all of our effluent until it is clean enough to drink before we expect our marine creatures to live in it.

Let’s figure out how to fully fund our hatcheries, and put many more salmonids into the ocean. They have to compete with SO many predators now, just to live. In Ucluelet harbour alone, I have counted 150+ California sea lions, right down by our hatchery. Quite a gauntlet for spawning fish, and salmonids to contend with just to survive.

Let’s undo this horrible legacy left to us by the logging industry by also funding Habitat Restoration. Let’s have healthy stream and river systems with appropriate beds for spawning. The chum run up our harbour existed when I got here, let’s commit to bringing it, and every other ‘lost’ run back. Let’s facilitate the life cycle of the fish, by giving them a place to return to and spawn, year after year.

Let’s have a reporting system, where all the killer whale sightings are reported. I will be quick to tell you, most here cannot identify different pods, or know Biggs from Northern or Southern residents. Let’s educate those on the water, and allow them to help with sightings and science. Let’s make it easy, and rewarding, so it actually gets done.

Some day, I hope the pilchards return. That too has happened in my lifetime. I was SO ecstatic the year they returned! The ocean was very much alive, there were humpback whales, and sea lions, and birds, and oh so many salmon. It was amazing. But then, there were the seiners. They didn’t have to go far. Right out front here, where the pilchard were. They could go in and out three times in a day. And they did, because I watched them. And the pilchards were gone again, and haven’t been back since. I caution the same for the herring. Harvesting them for roe, for someone’s sushi? They are essential to our food chain, probably even more so now that the pilchard are gone again…let’s manage these fisheries responsibly. Let’s not harvest them until they are all gone. Let’s allow some to be taken, but let’s ensure there are many left at the end of the day when the boats are tied up at the dock.

I eat every single fish I catch here. I am proud to harvest my own food and be sustainable. As an Algonquin First Nation’s person, I am even more so. My people travelled throughout Ontario and Quebec, following the fish. We were fish people. Like the Eskimo with many words for snow; we have so many words for fish! I think maybe it is my ancestral blood that makes me a fish person too, no matter where I have chosen to live. That said, maybe I do not need two chinook salmon in one day. I would be happy to have one. I am not feeding a village; just my humble family of four. I am suggesting perhaps our current limits are too high, if we want to solve this problem. Maybe there are more like me, who would like 30 chinook in a season, but would be happy with and grateful with 15.

I also would like DFO to take some action/ideas regarding the USA fishermen that come here to catch our Chinook Salmon. I see them too, in and out several times a day. There is even one who keeps a rowboat in the bay at Little Beach, to row in his fish several times a day so he does not get caught in the harbour with too many. And the ones that jar their fish, right there on the picnic tables at Island West, I see them too. I have called all these people in, reported to your RAPP line. A DFO Officer told me there are not enough officers out here for enforcement. That is a shame. Perhaps, these USA fishermen (meat hunters we call them in the business) should have to hire a Canadian Guide when they come here. This would ensure they are catching only their limit. I am sure your dockside Creel Surveys would also support this, proper identification of species, identification of hatchery fish (and heads/data/dna collected by guides would be invaluable to your science) and size restrictions are not followed by these tourists, an afternoon watching them clean fish at the dock would support what I am saying. It is great that they come here (often for a month at a time!) but ensuring they follow our rules and regulations while they are here would also save a lot of chinook salmon….

So many ideas, and I am but one person. Imagine if we had the chance to get together, and get organized. If we could talk with the scientists, and come up with solutions! I think what I am trying to say is we all want to help. I will not argue the science you presented me with, although I do think it is incredible that the SRKWs not only prefer chinook salmon, but only Canadian ones! (like a good little girl I submit heads, dna etc. and know many of the chinook here are American, and am very puzzled that no dna of these fish showed up in your data of SRKW scat). But let’s not argue. Let’s concede that there is a problem here, and let’s look together for solutions.

Please also just briefly, aside from the whales, consider the people that have been fishing for generations, and know nothing else, the socio-economic effect this will have on our coastal community. On the outside it looks like tourism alone can carry us, but I know the numbers (both people and dollar wise) that one single charter fisherman brings to our community, and it is LARGE. Our fuel docks, our liquor store, our grocery store etc. This closure would affect the income of every person I know in Ukee pretty much, whether they fish, or clean at accommodation providers. Year ‘round employment is tough to find here, and summer employment would also be lost without the cash influx fishing (both commercial and charter) brings to our town.

Please Sirs, for the love of this community, the salmon and the whales, help me find a solution that benefits everyone in coastal communities.

Thank you,

Lynette O’Brien



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