Legacy Part 05 – Echo Bay BC

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By Jason Murphy. First Published 25/01/2018 

For me Echo Bay was an idea before it was a place.

I had returned to Vancouver with a determination to start Sealives and a list of marine conservation and coastal culture subjects to research. But I needed something to tie it to home. An assignment to pursue here, to get things going right away and to give Sealives its philosophical centre.

I seized on Echo Bay as a location to focus on way before I knew anything of the people who live there or its sister bay further down the North West coast of Gilford Island – nicknamed Proctor Bay after its most famous resident Billy Proctor – a local legend of the BC Salmon Fishing industry.

The thing that took me there was a line that I read in a guide for kayakers that described Echo Bay as the world’s smallest marine park.

I had already sketched out ambitious plans for Sealives to take photographs in and around some of the largest marine parks in the world – I had an idea that Echo Bay might turn out to have many of the same issues despite its small size. I speculatively called the assignment Microcosm and set out to get there.

I might not have made it but for the help and cooperation of Proctor Bay’s other two residents Nikki van Schyndel and Charlie Sneed – more of them in future posts.

On my journey there I had met enough people with insights into the wider Johnstone Straight, Queen Charlotte Strait. Broughton Archipelago ecosystem to decide that a different name was required. In truth though, if the focus had remained on Echo Bay alone, Microcosm would have turned out to be the perfect title.

I spent a week there and found that Echo Bay is a marine and shore park located in an area of not only natural but also cultural archaeological importance that the local First Nations community regard as unceded to the white man.

It is also home to a coastal community that has all but made the transition from a year-round home to residents who make their livelihood from the ocean and the forest, to a jump-off point for tourists visiting the archipelago in summer and a sometimes cordial sometimes uneasy neighbor to logging camps and nearby First Nations communities. No-one I spoke to was in favor of the open pen salmon farming in the area.

The park itself is peaceful in an unspectacular way. The dock dilapidated with a sign proclaiming it closed and more signs on shore from the native community declaring their historic right to the area. Sea-lions scavenge for food and bark in the morning air, and the view of the mountains of the archipelago from the beach is mesmeric.

Pierre Landry holds leases for much of the shoreline in Echo Bay adjacent to the park. He and his wife have built the marina there from next to nothing to what it is today. Every year they play host to tourists and the transient cruising community, the main income coming from moorage and electricity supply augmented by a general store, a restaurant and a gas station.

When we talked he emphasized that “every little helps” – a sentiment echoed by a number of people I have spoken to out here – the need to have more than one line of income to get by.

Pierre also holds shoreline leases in this and another bay – subletting space to float home owners another source of income.

Nikki also set me up to meet Ted Emmonds a local sport-fishing guide who lives in a floathome moored in the bay.

Sport-fishing like everything on the water has its supporters and its critics, and while sport-fishing doesn’t take as much fish as the commercial fisheries, there can be the temptation to exceed limits and fish in sensitive areas such as the mouths of rivers where salmon return to spawn. There are rules around this stuff of course, but some express doubts about the degree to which they are followed and – particularly regarding proximity limits near the mouths of rivers – the degree to which sport-fishermen even know the rules exist or can recognize the limit markers.

Ted told me that he has no problem insisting that guests stay within the rules while acknowledging that there is always pressure to make sure that they have a successful day of fishing. From his perspective, a more abundant wild salmon population would only make his life easier.

All the familiar pressures are here then – a once-thriving fishing community replaced by seasonal tourism businesses that bring their own compromises, Indigenous communities eager to establish their historic claims, difficulties with management and enforcement.

A microcosm after all.