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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
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?
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
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?
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,
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
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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