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For Haida, science at heart of disagreement with village

Oct 20 2012
Yellow and brown indicate relatively high concentrations of plankton in the waters west of Haida Gwaii in August, after iron sulphate was dumped into the Pacific Ocean as part of a controversial geoengineering scheme. It is not known how much of the plankton bloom was naturally caused and how much may have been triggered by the iron dumped into the sea. 

Yellow and brown indicate relatively high concentrations of plankton in the waters west of Haida Gwaii in August, after iron sulphate was dumped into the Pacific Ocean as part of a controversial geoengineering scheme. It is not known how much of the plankton bloom was naturally caused and how much may have been triggered by the iron dumped into the sea.

Photograph by: Giovanni/Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center/NASA/Files , Postmedia News

When the president of the Haida Nation was told earlier this week that fishermen were taking sea cucumbers off the coast of Haida Gwaii, he wasted no time in intervening.

The fishermen were sent packing and Fisheries and Oceans can expect an earful.

"They approved a fishery for 50,000 pounds of sea cucumber.

That's ridiculous. They do an inventory in one area and then extrapolate over the whole thing," said Guujaaw, the Haida Nation's president since 2000.

No fishery should take place without accurate science to back it up, he said.

For 30 years, the Haida Nation has fought against unsustainable logging, tanker traffic, proposals for offshore drilling and depletion of fish stocks - which makes accusations of geoengineering and possible environmental damage against a Haida band hurtful.

The Council of Haida Nations has firmly distanced itself from this summer's experiment by the Village of Old Massett, which saw 100 tonnes of iron-laden dust scattered on the ocean to promote growth of phytoplankton to feed young salmon.

"We have to be careful how we handle this," Guujaaw said. "I hope we can work this through.

We all have to live together."

Individual councils are responsible for their reserves, with the Council of Haida Nations taking overall responsibility for the area.

Many people are wondering why the village council believes it has jurisdiction on the high seas, Guujaaw said. There are also questions about some of the claims made during the debate.

The Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. says that the water where the iron was spread was a dead zone that came to life.

"I had some tuna fishermen call me this morning and they're really upset. They say it's a very rich place," Guujaw said.

The Village of Old Massett voted about 70 per cent in favour of the project, which involved borrowing $2.5 million from the village reserve fund.

The village runs a successful hatchery, but returns of fish have been shrinking - which band members linked to lack of food. jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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