Andrew and Karl Salin spin for Gwaii Haanas trivia questions at the June 29 open house in the Kay Centre. (Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)

Gwaii Haanas looks to protect more marine areas

Proposal would increase areas without commercial or recreational fishing from three to 40 per cent

Sushi was a good choice at the community dinner that introduced a new draft plan for Gwaii Haanas last Friday.

Called the Land-Sea-People Plan or Gina ‘Waadluxan KilGuhlGa (Talking About Everything), the 10-year plan is the first to include guidelines for both land and sea.

If adopted, it will bring major changes to how people fish in Gwaii Haanas.

“The biggest change will be in the marine area,” says Superintendent Ernie Gladstone, noting that the new plan would increase the fully protected marine area in Gwaii Haanas from three to 40 per cent.

Among the areas that would be off-limits for recreational or commercial fishing is a 500 km2 area along the west coast of Moresby Island.

Stretching from Kwoon Cove down to Gowgaia Bay, it has been called an “ecological superstorm” — a place where the continental shelf drops off quickly and cold, nutrient-rich waters well up over a whole series of underwater ecosystems.

“That will probably be the largest protected area on the B.C. coast, if we stick with this zoning plan,” Gladstone said.

If adopted, a new 10-year management plan for Gwaii Haanas would increase the area off-limit to recreational or commercial fishing from three to 40 per cent. (Gwaii Haanas)

Sea changes

Gladstone said the zoning layout changed after staff on the joint Haida Nation/Parks Canada/DFO planning team met with people in the fishing industry.

“One of the things we heard from the commercial fishing industry was that having a small closed area, then a small open area, was very difficult for them,” he added, noting that it’s costly for fishers to continually haul up and reset gear.

That led planners to create larger protected zones, and larger zones for the 60 per cent of Gwaii Haanas where recreational and commercial fishing will still be allowed.

Haida traditional use will continue throughout, though a few small sites, such as the sea lion rookeries on the Kerouard Islands and Garcin Rocks, will be off-limits to boats of any kind.

Cindy Boyko, a Haida Nation co-chair for the Archipelago Management Board that oversees Gwaii Haanas, said that so far, the planning has been about compromise all the way round.

“What we’re doing here is not just protecting it for the sake of protecting it, but trying to create sustainable use in the area,” Boyko said.

Leading the way

Gwaii Haanas was always intended to protect both lands and waters, starting with its original designation by the Council of the Haida Nation in 1985, said Jason Alsop, Gaagwiis, speaking on behalf of the Archipelago Management Board that oversees Gwaii Haanas.

Following other agreements that dealt mainly with the land, in 2010, Canada and the Haida Nation agreed to a temporary, stand-alone marine plan for Gwaii Haanas that had six protected areas, ranging from a complete fishing closure in Burnaby Narrows to a series of urchin study and rockfish conservation zones.

In the last two years, Alsop said technical staff from the Haida Nation, Parks Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) worked together to make a new, mountaintop-to-seafloor plan that is “really at the forefront of marine protection in Canada.”

Tyler Peet, the natural resources manager for Gwaii Haanas, agrees.

While Parks Canada has a national framework for monitoring ecosystems on land, marine conservation is still fairly new.

“Gwaii Haanas has jumped ahead of the curve,” Peet said.

Seal, sea lion, and sea-otter surveys are done each year in Gwaii Haanas by plane and boat. Last winter, a deep-water hydrophone was installed along the west coast to track human-made ocean noises and whale calls.

Gwaii Haanas staff also do annual species counts and habitat checks along a set of rock, subtidal reefs. In intertidal areas, there are surveys for eelgrass, abalone, and sea stars.

Ernie Gladstone said that for a relatively small place, Gwaii Haanas been lucky to receive substantial Parks Canada funding for restoration projects, from reviving salmon streams on Lyell Island to eradicating rats from the islands where they prey on seabirds.

This fall, Gladstone is hoping to see another first in Gwaii Haanas — a collaborative project between the Haida Nation, DFO, Parks Canada and commercial fishermen that will restore some of the kelp forests that are being gobbled up by urchin colonies that no longer have sea otters to check their numbers.

Protecting the land

Fisheries changes and ecological research aren’t the only new marine measures in the Land-Sea-People plan, which includes goals for rebuilding herring stocks and more underwater archaeological studies.

But while many of the new changes are on the marine side, the plan also sets new goals for protecting the land.

“Invasive species are the number-one threat to the ecological and cultural integrity of the land,” said Gladstone.

Last year, Gwaii Haanas staged a massive effort to rid Ramsay Island and four nearby islands of invasive deer — a $5.7-million project that involved a helicopter-mounted sharpshooter, sniffer dogs, bait stations, and hunters working on the ground and from boats.

Keeping invasive rats off Arichika and Murchison Islands is another ongoing project, but Gladstone said the new Land-Sea-People also aims to expand similar efforts across the whole of Haida Gwaii.

By the end of 2019, Gladstone said everyone involved in managing Gwaii Haanas hopes to work with Haida Gwaii conservation officers, park wardens, Haida Fisheries guardians and others to set up an islands-wide “biosecurity” protocol to keep invasive animals and plants off island.

“We can always achieve more when everybody’s working together,” he said.

Gladstone said Gwaii Haanas staff have already learned a lot from contacts in New Zealand, which is a leading country in managing invasive species.

Years ago, on a family trip to New Zealand, Gladstone was amazed to see what its biosecurity plan did to his kids’ dirty gumboots.

“That was the cleanest they ever were, since the day we bought them,” he said, laughing.

Increasing local access

Last but not least, the Land-Sea-People plan sets out goals for more Haida cultural programs, field courses for university students, and a steady uptick in tourism of at least two per cent per year.

Judging by the public feedback heard so far, Hilary Thorpe, a project manager with Gwaii Haanas, said that when it comes to people, there is a one common call from every village between Old Massett and Sandspit — more affordable access for locals.

In recent years, Gwaii Haanas has partnered with the Haida Gwaii School District and Mount Moresby Adventure Camp to make sure every local high school student gets at least one chance to go.

But Thorpe said they are looking at other ideas, including a way to alert islands residents to any last-minute seat sales by Gwaii Haanas tour operators.

While Gwaii Haanas remains a far cry from well-trampled, highway-accessible places like Banff or Jasper, tourism is steadily rising, and hit a record 2,819 visits last year.

Gladstone said it’s hard to know exactly why, but pointed out that Haida Gwaii gained a lot of international attention when the Legacy Pole was raised at Windy Bay in 2013, when the documentary film Haida Gwaii: Edge of the World came out in 2015, and again when Prince William and Kate dropped by the Kay.

The new plan for Gwaii Haanas could involve new features such as adding backcountry campsites and trails, more cultural workshops and citizen science. But Gladstone said the Haida Gwaii Watchmen will remain at the core of the visitor experience, as they have since 1981.

“It’s always a big part of the visitors’ experience while they’re in Gwaii Haanas, and they also play a big role in watching over and protecting the sites in the summer months,” he said.

Islanders can comment on the draft plan for Gwaii Haanas by speaking with staff, filling out an online comment card at, emailing or, or phoning 250-559-8818. Comment cards have also been mailed to each postbox on Haida Gwaii. The comments deadline is Sunday, July 15.

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