Hank Shelley

Column: Witnessing coastal change

In March 1778, Capt. James Cook sailed his ship, the Resolution, along the mist-shrouded shores of the B.C. coast to Nootka Sound.

Cook was the first European to set foot in what is now British Columbia. He and his crew spent almost a month in the sound, and had cordial relations with Chief Maquinna, and the Nootka people. Cook required tall straight timbers for his masts, fresh drinking water, but was also worried about scurvy amongst the crew.

For this he insisted the ship’s doctor brew spruce needle tea. As well, aboard ship salt beef and biscuit were the order of the day but, Cook tried to obtain fresh fruits and other foods high in vitamins to ward off scurvy. Cook was not alone, as the Spanish had heard of the boundless number of sea otters, rich timber values, and possible new lands for Spain. Capt. Perez set sail in 1774, and on the 18th of July arrived in the Queen Charlotte Islands.

How beautiful the B.C. coast must have looked; rich in sea life, whales, sea otters, the coastal mountains rich in untouched fir, spruce, cedar stands.

Driving into the historic mining and logging village of Zeballos, last week, for our annual salmon and halibut charter with son Steve, who operates Island Tides fishing ventures, I was astounded about the amount of clear-cut and heli-logging Western Forest Products is conducting. Off-road giant trucks full of red cedar and fir grind their way off steep hillsides. Foresters will tell you regeneration will happen quickly from coastal rains, but mountains still remain naked from generations of timber extraction and profit to the U.S.-based timber barons.

Heading out on the water, fishing for coho using coyote spoons works well. Ling cod were plentiful just off bottom. The main runs of chinook salmon were still well offshore, but we still caught fish running to 23 lbs.

The ocean has warmed by a degree or two, bringing in sea creatures like giant sun fish, one floating to the surface beside the boat weighing in at about 300 lbs. Seagulls perched on its back, picking off parasites. Its main food, jelly fish, abound in these waters at times. They are a yellow and white in colour. Also double pink hollow tubes cling to the fishing lines.

It’s a very different world since Captain Cook ventured into B.C.’s coastal waters in the 1700’s.

It’s difficult to predict what the future holds for our coastal timber supply as big forest companies have their eyes set on more intensive logging, even on Denman Island and other untapped timber, with B.C. Timber Sales siding with big business.

Cook would be ashamed at what humans are doing in B.C. for greed and profit, at the expense of fish, rivers, streams and wildlife. But, as the saying goes, what will be will be and who are we to change things? Thank God for those who speak out for what is taking place.

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