Locals fear the loss of their economy and way of life should oil spill into one of the nearby rivers
Troy Media – by Nikki Skuce
Imagine standing waist-deep in frigid, flowing waters during late October/early November in northern British Columbia.
Imagine numb fingers grasping at nylon fishing line as flurries and falling leaves blow down the valley. Imagine doing it all day, with heavy rubber and thick wool the only thing standing between you and the icy river. Your only physical movement is the twitch of your arm over your head and the steadying of your feet on the rocky river bottom.
Imagine loving it. Imagine paying thousands of dollars a day for the experience and coming back year after year after year – just to feel a trophy steelhead seize your line.
Every autumn, northern British Columbia attracts tens of thousands of fishers who line its turquoise rivers as yellow aspen leaves settle on emerald green moss. For most of the country, October would be considered a sleepy time of year. In the North, it’s high tourism season, when unwitting visitors try to book hotels and are flabbergasted to learn that there’s not a single room in town.
Those fishers, once they leave their soggy, half-submerged perch in the river, may warm up with a pint at a nearby pub. They’ll dine out, maybe treat their thawing muscles to a massage, and crawl into a soft bed at a nearby hotel. Or perhaps they’ll warm up and feast under the coveted hospitality at one of the region’s dozens of fishing lodges. They infuse millions of dollars into northern B.C.’s economy every fall – millions that could be lost if an oil pipeline is pushed through the region.
Some of the smaller world-class steelhead rivers that thread their way through the North include the Kispiox, Morice and Bulkley. They eventually drain into the Skeena. The Skeena River and its tributaries support more than 75,000 angler days annually for steelhead and salmon, with fishers spending nearly $20 million in the region. Second only to the Skeena watershed is the Kitimat River, also a significant contributor to the local economy. The Kitimat supports more than 50,000 angler days annually with anglers spending roughly $10 million.
None of these figures even take into account the commercial and native fisheries in the region, which add further millions to B.C.’s northern economy.
As the National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel continues its hearings in Prince George this week, those catching the last week of steelhead fishing are unlikely to find solace in Enbridge’s responses under cross-examination. Over 70 per cent chance of an oil spill of any size? Oil spill cleanup plans for these rivers not detailed until six months before Enbridge hopes to operate? Potentially years of construction along their favourite fishing hole on the Morice?
As the proposed pipelines approach the Pacific Ocean, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway would cross the headwaters of the Morice River before continuing west through the treacherous, slide-prone terrain of the Coast Mountains and south alongside the Kitimat River. It doesn’t take a high-ranking economist to figure out how a spill might affect northern B.C.’s world-famous fishing.
An oil spill from an Enbridge pipeline wouldn’t take long to make international headlines. And it wouldn’t take long for dedicated fishers to realize that, while ice water and snow flurries might not be a deterrent to fishing northern B.C.’s river, an oil slick might never bring them back.
And this is what local residents don’t want to live with – the ongoing fear that our economy, cultures and way of life could be swept away the day oil spills into one of our many rivers. Just as fishing guides can’t guarantee a catch, Enbridge has stated that they can’t guarantee there won’t be a spill. For northerners, our odds are better betting on hooking a feisty steelhead than putting our faith on Enbridge.
Nikki Skuce works for ForestEthics Advocacy out of Smithers and is an intervener in the Enbridge JRP hearings.
© Troy Media