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A SpruceRoots interview
with Glen and Linda Davies

Linda and Glen Davies talk about family, community,
and fishing for a livelihood on Haida Gwaii

Family, fishing and livelihood

SpruceRoots- How long have each you been fishing and have you been fishing together long?
Glen Davies- We started to fish together the first year that we got together, it was that summer .
Linda Davies- For about seven years.

SpruceRoots- Had either of you fished before that?
LD- I started trolling in 1977. Then I went gill-netting with another woman and then I didn't fish again until 1981. I was working at different things­p;hand logging and stuff like that, I've fished off and on for ten to fifteen years. It is what I know what to do. My family has always been on the water, on the Great Lakes and so it is in my blood. It is a lot different working out on the water. I get a sense of accomplishment because you are providing food for people.
GD- I've fished off and on for about twenty years, I guess. I first started fishing when my dad bought a fish boat, the Kodiak. I think I only deck-handed about half the summer that year. my younger brother Neil spent the whole summer deck-handing with me the next year. I didn't fish then for a while. I went logging and I just went fishing during summer shut-down and during fire season. I went truck driving for a while. Then, I went back to fishing.

SR - What brought you back to fishing?
GD- I just didn't like the type of work that I was doing­p;sitting there all day long in the logging truck and my back was starting to get bad just in the short period that I was driving a truck. I decided that I would go out fishing again. There was no problem getting on with my dad, he wanted me to go fishing with him all the time. We bought a couple of herring licenses so that was another reason they wanted me to come back fishing, to have more help to do the herring fishery. We ended up buying a halibut license the year after that and started doing halibut.

SR - When you fished in those years, could you make enough money in a season to last you through the year?
GD - Usually, we would make enough between fishing the herring, halibut, and salmon. It was about equivalent to what I could make driving a truck for the whole year.

SR - How much would you fish in the year?
GD - Five to six months.
LD- You used to be able to troll sometimes from an April opening, which was really early, to the beginning of October. That wouldn't mean fishing the whole time. They have cut it back now. An opening would start at the end of April, beginning of May, and then they would close it down for a few months. They started closing it in June for some reason. Then the salmon treaties were put in place and after that there seemed to be a shorter season from July and sometimes you would get close to the end of September but most of the time it was mid-September.

SR - Did your family fish before your dad bought a boat, or was your dad the first in your family to take up fishing?
GD - I think he was the first in the family to fish. My grandfather was pretty much a business man in life.

SR - Why did you and your dad choose fishing?
GD - My dad always liked fish. He was always going down to the fish plant in Prince Rupert. He was born and raised in Prince Rupert. He always remembered going down to the fish plants and hang around until one of the plant workers to took pity on you and gave you a fish or something. You would be a big hero when you went home and you had this fish to give to your mom. His was not a real big family. There were four of them. My grandfather was not making lots of money, so it was kind of hard times and you did anything that you could to help the family out. My dad always had a job, from eleven or twelve years old, selling newspapers and he would have some other job on top of that and be going to school. He didn't like school so he ended up joining the Sea Cadets. I think that was a big factor in him deciding to work on the water. He really enjoyed it to just go out there.

SR - So it seemed natural for you to follow in fishing?
GD - Yes. my younger brother Neil was born to fish. He knew when we got out of school that that is what he wanted to do. He took a short college course on small motor mechanics and he did a little heavy duty mechanics. He wanted that knowledge for on the boat so that he could help himself.

SR- So you are saying that the season was about six months if you had a variety of licenses?
GD- Yes

SR- What is it now and what are you fishing?
GD- We ended up buying a cod license last winter and we are fishing that.

SR- Is the cod fishery year round?
GD- The season opens in the north areas before it opens in the south so a lot of the southern boats come up and fish up here until it opens down there. By the time they open on the west coast of Vancouver Island the quota has pretty much been caught up here (towards the end of may and the first week of June).

SR- How long is the salmon season this year?
It could be shut down at any time the way they have set it up.

SR- So it is wait and see scenario?
GD- Yes, the management could shut it down anytime.
LD- It used to be a pretty good life when you had the longer seasons. You weren't taking chances to be out there trying to make a living when you really should be at anchor. You would bring in fish and have a beach barbecue, and all the fishermen would visit. Now its got to the point that there is so much pressure to fish in the shorter openings and the limited numbers of fish that if its blowing twenty you still have to be out there.
It's not working anymore in a way to be able to make a living at it.
GD- One break down or a bad turn and you don't get the fish. If you keep missing them all season or if you only get on to them a couple of times during the season, before you know it the seasons over and you just haven't done it.
LD- The average fisherman was making a decent living. You weren't getting rich or anything, just a good living.

SR- Is it because of the nature of the fishery now, that you are looking at not fishing and finding another job instead of going out there?
LD- Possibly.

SR- That is a big shift in livelihood for both of you and your family. How do you feel about this change?
LD- We have got the dirty end of the stick. We live here. We spend our money in our communities and we are not being allowed to make the living that we know how to, to circulate the money back into our communities.

A double standard does not work

On May 18, 1996 trollers blockaded planes at the Alliford Bay flats that were to deliver sports fishermen to the lodges at Langara Island. The action was to protest the fact that the Department of Fisheries had not announced the 1996 sport fishing regulations allowing the lodges to operate under the 1995 rules. Under those rules anglers were allowed to catch and keep one chinook a day to a maximum of two fish, while commercial fishermen were told by DFO that there would be no chinook fishery for them.

SpruceRoots- The changing conditions have had a big impact on your livelihood and community spinoff with fewer or no boats at the docks. What event moved you to blockade the planes flying guests out to the fishing lodges.
LD - We couldn't take it anymore. It's a double standard when you are told that you are going to conserve fish and the reason why you are going to conserve fish and another sector of the fishing industry still fishes like it has normally fished. There are no conservation concerns for that group, the lodges.
What did it for me was I had come into town and there was this big fancy van and a big fancy truck in front of Meegan's and it had "West Coast Lodge" on it. I thought, "and they are starting up?" There had not been any word yet if anyone was going to fish. The lodges had got the go-ahead under last years regulations. I started thinking about that and I thought, "Wait, we are not supposed to fish because of conservation measures and they are allowing these guys to open and fish under last years regulations?" It was just too much to take. Two weeks went by and there was a derby. That is what really brought it about.
We wanted to make people more aware that the fish that we are conserving in the commercial troll sector were being allocated to the lodges under last years regulations. They hadn't even decided if there was going to be an aboriginal food fish and constitutionally, conservation comes first and aboriginal food fish is second. The rest of us are third. Historically, commercial fishing has been around a helluva lot longer than these lodges. The lodges were crying that they have spent all this money on advertising and they say, "We are all booked," and stuff like that. That is their fault. Fishing is a high risk industry that has no guaranty. We knew the consequences when we went into this business and we always listened to DFO because conservation was supposed to be their mandate. Now, you can not listen to them any more because obviously, conservation is not their mandate, it is a double standard.

SR- It is obvious that this is impacting your livelihood.
LD- I mean, what am I going to do? I don't know.

SR- So how did the blockade develop, was it was just a bunch of people talking to each other and you discovered there were similar sentiments among you?
LD-That is basically how it happened. We just couldn't let it go. We just kept phoning people. Five or six times a day and every night. We kept saying that we have got to do this, that no one is going to get arrested.
Finally Lindsay said, "Well, it is never going to be perfect. I am going tomorrow and you guys are welcome to come if you want." That evening, everyone got to it and said, "Okay, we'll do it."
It wasn't that we didn't want to do it. It was finally having to take that step. None of us had done an illegal thing in our lives and we felt we were being forced to do things that we wouldn't normally do.

SR- How did that feel once you had taken the action?
LD - There was a huge weight lifted, for everybody that was there, it was like a burden had been lifted off our shoulders. It was like we finally realized that we can do something about it.
There were seven of us. Six fishing boats and a tug boat. We weren't a very big armada but we did it, and then fishermen started blockading in Prince Rupert and Masset. It worked out perfect, it all came together. It went through the grapevine "We are blockading Alliford, okay then we will start blockading up here."
It was Harbour Days in Masset. We had been in touch with guys in Masset but we didn't have anything set up in Rupert. Someone contacted someone in Prince Rupert and they said, "No problem, we will have one happening here." They had to get a helicopter to fly the lodge guests out.
And it is still not enough. It is not the end of it. We are not conserving fish when they are catching and killing them on Vancouver Island, the very stock that we are conserving here. If there are any licenses we should buy back, we should buy the lodges back and let the local fishermen continue supporting their communities. Give the lodges the 80 million dollars (Mifflin Plan buy-back) to get the hell out of there.

SR- In light of your participation in the blockade and your concerns about the degradation of the environment what could government have been done differently?
LD- We really feel that they should have shut every one and everything down for the whole year. If conservation concerns were to shutdown everything across the board, people would have dealt with it and there would not be the favouring of one group over another.

How did we end up in this situation?

SpruceRoots- To date the sports fishing catch allocation is about 48,000 chinook salmon. Over the past ten years with the reallocation of the fish stocks the impact on local fishermen has been direct.
LD- You look at the number of boats fishing up here and that 48,00 fish could make the difference between having to go to a shake fishery (catch and release) when you are cut-off the chinooks say mid-August because you have already caught your quota on them.
We should explain how the sports fishing ended up with the quota and where it came from. This ended up happening when they put the salmon treaty in place because the Americans were concerned about the number of sport fish that were caught in Canadian waters. One of the U.S. demands to get the treaty signed is that there would be some kind of a sports allocation. They came up with 20,000 pieces. It seemed to me that the trollers in the south did not lose any allocation. The numbers stayed up over 300,000 like they have always been for the south. I am not sure if they were concerned with the catch numbers coming from the north but fisheries allocated that fish to the sports sector.
GD- At the same time, we used to catch a fair number of springs up at Langara Island and Conehead. I don't remember the actual take but sometimes it would be a considerable number over one season such as 50,000 springs between the two places. It went down to 10,000 and they allocated some of that fish to the sports sector and the sports sector was up to 30,000 pieces.
LD- It became harder for the net fleet to operate too, not having a bigger abundance of chinook to try and catch their stock from. The fleet started to see a lot more restrictions on the way they were fishing in those two areas. The sports allocation escalated in six or seven years time. It ended up that they had 42,500 pieces for the north area. We were reduced, depending on what their run abundance was. We went from 180,000 then to 160,000, then last year we were cut two-thirds to 60,000 and the sports was still 42,000 pieces in the north.
I was arguing this issue at a sports meeting and they said, "No, we were cut down to 21,000 pieces." I said, "No, it was cut down to 21, 000 pieces just for Langara area and the west coast of the Charlottes. It was still 42,000 pieces in the north. Don't tell me, I know."

SR- You are down to 60,000 fish for the fleet. How big is the troll fleet?
GD- Maybe 450 boats in the north, that is in the high point of the season. Most of the boats that had been fishing in the north, stay fishing in the north because there wasn't anything to fish for in the south. In the south, they have a big shot of cohos for maybe a week or ten days and then if they don't have any spring salmon that they are allowed to catch, then that is pretty well it for the troll season, unless there is sockeye that we are able to fish.

Is there such a thing as a sustainable liveihood?

We all spend time looking back at the way things were, the way things used to be. Spending an equal amount of time looking at what it is we have now and what is coming down the tubes, though more difficult and often depressing, is clearly the ticket to our long-term survival as sustainable communities on Haida Gwaii.
What we have now and what we end up with on these Islands for the future is 'it'. And what is meant by 'it' is the resources that are going to sustain us and forge the future that will be ours.

SR- What is your estimation of the impact of logging and the degradation to the land and waters on the fishing industry.
GD- I remember when I was 13,14, and really getting into fishing. We could go almost anywhere here in Skidegate Inlet and catch a coho. All kinds of fish were around.
There was a tiny a-frame show that had been logged on Maude Island, a couple of shows in the narrows and a couple of little ones here and there. It seemed like there were fish all over the place. The logging kept escalating and escalating. The creek valleys were what the companies headed for first. They headed up all the creeks and logged from top to bottom, took all the good wood and left a mess. The fish just kept going down and down and down. I remember when we first started fishing, we could come into the inlet here and troll for sometimes for a week around Maude island and get fairly decent coho fish. You could fish until the fish were too water marked and the buyers wouldn't take them anymore.
LD - I remember when you could go over by Maude Island and people would give away coho "Just take what you need. Go ahead." It was thick with them. That was 16-17 years ago.
GD- When there are no trees, and no fish, then those big companies like MacMillan Bloedel will just leave and then what do you have. No fish. No logs. There you go. All you have left are government jobs and parks.

SR- That leads into talking about the future, what are we all going to do here, how are we going to work, what are our communities going to become. What is your bottom line on that topic?
LD- I think the bottom line for me is that we live here, we spend our money here. We should allowed to be able to fish here on the Charlottes. I shouldn't have to leave my home. I spend a lot of money in the communities. Look at the businesses here. Last year they lost a whole pile of money. When the dock is plugged with trollers that means each is going to spend five hundred dollars in groceries and then be going down to the fuel docks and going to the bar, going to the hotels to get off the boat for a couple of nights. You want to talk about dollars and cents? It is all going up there to the rich pockets and nothing is staying in our community. It is sad.
Our resources, logging and fishing, are going out to other people.
GD- Last winter I borrowed Jack Armstrongs' truck and took it up to Masset to get ice for cod that we wanted to fish, it was the first time that I had seen BC Packers empty and realized what a big operation that could have been, and it is sitting there like a big huge skeleton.
Someone can come along and say it isn't worth anything but the lodges up on Langara are so pretty and so new and in such a nice location so they are worth more money and more perks. There are no community values to be had out there. They are not employing people from the community. It was really shocking­p;so many skiffs out on the water.
The first year that I had fished up around Langara was in 1986. The fixed lodges weren't there. Just floating lodges and ten years later­p;I couldn't believe it so many skiffs.
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