In May 2010, a grey whale visited Howe Sound for what was believed to be the first time in approximately 100 years. The sighting near the mouth of the Squamish River was characterized as a sign that efforts to help the soundís fragile ecosystem recover from decades of degradation, mostly from industry-generated pollution, were succeeding.
Last week, leviathans of a different sort, long thought to have been extirpated from our waters, returned to this area to feed for the first time in more than 50 years. The commercial fishing vessels that the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) invited to the northern part of the sound touched off a brief but intense firestorm ó several people called The Chief to report a type of activity thought to be illegal merely because it hadnít happened here for so long.
In its own way, the return of commercial fishing to Howe Sound ó even for a carefully controlled, three-day trial being conducted under DFOís watchful eye ó is another sign of the soundís continuing recovery. Officials tell us itís too early to gauge whether the three-day pink salmon catch will demonstrate long-term sustainability of a commercial fishery in this area. But thereís little doubt that the number of recreational fishers who flocked to area rivers and streams to take advantage of the run over the past couple of weeks (the recreational pink salmon season closes on Monday, Sept. 2) are beneficial to the areaís economy, not to mention its reputation as an outdoor recreation Mecca.
In the past, restoration efforts have included the large (the building of a new water treatment plant and other infrastructure at Britannia Beach, for example) and the seemingly small (the Squamish Streamkeepersí diligent work to restore herring populations to their former glory).
But the soundís recovery isnít something to be taken for granted. Possible future threats include an aggregate mine proposed at McNab Creek and the proposed Woodfibre liquefied natural gas processing and export facility. While the projects come with the promise of much-needed jobs for the region, we can only hope federal and provincial officials assessing their environmental impacts will do a thorough job using the best available science and act accordingly.
Either way, it seems to this writer that a carefully managed commercial fishery ó†if thatís deemed possible over the long haul ó is an intriguing prospect that should be welcomed, not feared.
ó David Burke