From Potlatch to fish catch

March 30, 2011

The past week has been a whirlwind of activity.

We were extremely fortunate and grateful to be invited to a two day potlatch. It was a new experience for us all and another window into Heiltsuk culture. The Memorial Potlatch was held in celebration of the lives of late Lillian and David Gladstone, both highly respected and dearly loved members of the community who very worked hard to bring lost aspects of Heiltsuk culture back to the community.

Words nor pictures can even begin to describe what we experienced while attending the potlatch.  Witnessing the mourning songs, unveiling of the tombstones, coming of age ceremony, and uplifting of babies were experiences that we will hold close to us long after we leave Bella Bella.  The songs throughout the 2 days pulled at our emotions while the traditional Heiltsuk dances, as well as those from neighboring tribes, were breathtaking, as stories were told through dance to the beat of the long drum log stationed at the front of the hall.   We were also treated to delicious seafood and turkey dinners, having our fill of herring eggs and fish soup!  We are incredibly thankful to have been invited to witness and share in such an amazing event. Our thanks go out to everyone for making us feel so welcome.

In other news, we have added another member to our field family. Stefan Dick from UBC is our go to fisherman and has been a tremendous help out on the water. We were on the boat this past weekend gathering data and samples to get an idea of what the surrounding ecosystem is like before the herring start spawning. This included fishing to capture catch per unit effort as well as collecting fish samples, setting crab traps and gathering intertidal critters and algae for isotope analysis. En route to our sites, we were able to get our first glimpse at what we have all been waiting for… herring spawn!!  Young herring have started spawning in a couple of bays and it was amazing to see first hand what we have all been reading and hearing about for months.

Milt turns the water a different color, there’s splashing at the surface, roe on intertidal rocks and algae (tasted delicious), and a tremendous turn out of predators. I have never attempted to count so many ducks, eagles and gulls. The neat part is, according to our expert Clark, we ain’t seen nothing yet! Needless to say, we are eager for when the more mature herring begin to spawn.

The past couple of days we have spent dissecting various fish and invertebrates, as well as crafting several (perhaps an understatement) cages to be used in predator exclusion egg loss experiments. It’s amazing seeing a brainstormed hypothesis boil down to cutting holes in Tupperware. BUT, I’m convinced it’s going to be brilliant!

In addition to Stefan, we have also gained another crew member, Mark Wunsch. He will be setting up underwater cameras, as well as recording live footage via diving, to capture the entire spawning event and get an idea of what predators are gorging on herring roe. He will also be getting footage of the harvesting and processing of all things herring to be used in telling the tremendous story surrounding the ecological and social causes and consequences of herring stock declines.

It’s exciting having the full field crew together and to prepare as a group for the flurry of activity that is yet to come. It will be interesting when the herring really start to spawn, but if everything goes somewhat as planned (a very fuzzy word when dealing with the unpredictable herring), we’re going to leave Bella Bella with quite the fish story!

BK

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2 Responses to From Potlatch to fish catch

  1. Gail Lotenberg says:

    Excellent to have this running account of what it is like there and what you are seeing as it all happens. Thanks for blogging, I know it is kind of fun for you and a good read for us. I want to come see the Herring. When might they head to somewhere closer to Vancouver, say Hornby?

  2. Mikaela says:

    Sounds spectacular! Wish I could come up for a visit. Cannot wait to see the full suite of photos when you return.
    M

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