Marine Protections In Gwaii Haanas - An Ecotourism Operator Speaks Out

Legacy Part 20 – Bryce Klee – Haida Gwaii Kayaking & Ecotourism Business Owner

By Blake Butterfield – Co-Editor in Chief and Head Correspondent
 

Level The Field

Bryce Klee operates a kayaking tour company out of Queen Charlotte and has been doing so for the past five years. For a time in his earlier life, he was a safari guide in Africa.

In his work as a kayaking guide, he also sometimes takes people fishing in the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. This makes him, like many people on Haida Gwaii and off, someone who profits from the area’s lack of total marine protection. Unlike any other we have yet heard from, however, Bryce, “would gladly give up the right just to do that small amount of fishing if it meant that that leveled the playing field in terms of stopping all fishing.”

Stopping all fishing? He means stopping all commercial fishing in the waters surrounding Gwaii Haanas, specifically. Not everywhere in the oceans. Bryce is a reasonable, thinking man and he has logical reasons for proposing what at first glance may seem unreasonable. As already mentioned, he would even give up his admittedly small piece of that cash pie.
 

 Bryce Klee, on the beach outside his kayak, stand-up paddleboard and bicycle rental business, Queen Charlotte, Haida Gwaii.

Bryce Klee, on the beach outside his kayak, stand-up paddleboard and bicycle rental business, Queen Charlotte, Haida Gwaii.

Getting Nothing Out of Something

"You can pick this arbitrary number: 40, 60, 80. It wouldn’t matter what it was. If it’s not everything, then it’s almost nothing."

The marine area being protected under the new Gwaii Haanas Land-Sea-People Management Plan has jumped from three percent to forty percent. Of course, that looks very good on paper. Bryce believes the commercial fishing interests had an overabundance of say on the matter, however, and that there are areas that were protected before that no longer are. He says this is because the commercial fishing lobbyists, if you will, were able to get the new plan to leave the best and most populated fishing areas unprotected. He says these are the areas where many species gather to spawn, and where they mostly habitate, and that nature dictates that fishing those areas will affect every other area nearby.

Bryce says it most eloquently when he tells us, “You can protect 80% of the marines around Gwaii Haanas and leave 20% of the best, most productive regions where fish are…and you’ve in essence protected nothing. Because that other 80% requires that 20% that’s most productive to sort of restock itself. And that’s almost what’s happening right now. You can pick this arbitrary number: 40, 60, 80. It wouldn’t matter what it was. If it’s not everything, then it’s almost nothing. And that’s what’s kind of disappointing about this process is that you get to pat yourself on the back right now because [it looks to the general public like] you’ve done something.”
 

Spirit, Hope and Pride

While they come every ten years and they re-evaluate the sea management plan, he says, and it almost seemed arbitrary to increase the amount of fully protected area from eight to 40 percent [Ed. Note: the earlier protected amount was actually three percent]. Even those with whom he spoke who were involved in the process told him this was so. Forty was a number they chose because they figured it would not ruffle too many feathers. But, he says, “it is not very ambitious as a long-term goal to only partially protect this small area when you don’t have to be an expert in ocean conservation or marine biology in order to see how interconnected all these little spots are...” Put another way, while 40% protection sounds good, because the ocean is not a stable environment and not a lake, nothing is actually protected as far as fish stocks go.

A momentous undertaking and show of cooperation, the Gwaii Haanas Land-Sea-People Management Plan is headed by the Archipelago Management Board (AMB). Making the plan the first of its kind in Canada, the AMB is being supported by a team comprised of members from the Council of the Haida Nation, Parks Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). All have worked closely with the Gwaii Haanas Advisory Committee (GHAC) while taking in thousands of suggestions from the public and working towards a first draft of the plan that will guide policy in the region for the next decade. As it relates to the spirit of cooperation and a hope for future collaborations, the plan is something to be proud of.
 

True Value of Money

"But, how much does it cost to pay them for their loss of no longer being able to access Gwaii Haanas? It must not be that much."

Bryce asks a reasonable and interesting question, “What is the true value of Gwaii Hanaas?”

“It’s not,” he goes on to point out, “the weight of the fish that gets sold in the markets. It’s the long-term value of having a functional ecosystem; of having a place where people can go to appreciate the environment. And surely that value is much higher.” Bryce believes, knowing full well that a capitalist society must bow to money, that we should properly value Gwaii Haanas for what it is worth as a functioning ecosystem. Which it won’t be, he says, “if we continue to fish it for another ten years before we re-evaluate this and finally figure out that we could just stop. We could just leave this little area alone. It doesn’t have to be so, at least in my opinion, for the short term gain of a few fishermen who…To be quite frank, half of them don’t even live here in Haida Gwaii; not that localism necessarily matters. But, how much does it cost to pay them for their loss of no longer being able to access Gwaii Haanas? It must not be that much. I don’t think, anyway. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions of dollars, but the value of Gwaii Hanaas is, in my opinion, much greater. So you can improve this whole process by properly valuing the place and the environment versus the economic benefit of fishing.”

Jason asked Bryce where, as a businessman, he thought the line should be drawn in the tourism of the area between the right amount of impact and the wrong amount of impact, environmentally. Not just in regards to fishing, but as a whole. “In tourism,” he replied, “I think we are constantly having that internal struggle. Especially when you are bringing people to remote and very rich, natural habitats. How do you show somebody that without diminishing it at the same time? And it’s a very difficult thing to do. And of course, where is the line? If you don’t bring people there at all, then there’s almost no appreciation for it. Even though that shouldn’t be the basis for valuing wilderness. Still, there’s got to be a balance. And, of course, everybody who goes to visit Gwaii Haanas is going to burn a bit of fuel to get there. They are going to disturb, in one way or another. I hope that at least as kayakers we have a minimal impact, but I wouldn’t pretend like we have none.”
 

Figure It Out

“It’s worth also considering that this place used to be home to twenty thousand Haida people and at that time still the environment probably flourished. I think, of course, there was many more fish while 20,000 people lived there than there are now when only three- or four thousand people live here. So it's not necessarily that people can’t cohabitate with the natural environment, and not have that be a mutually beneficial relationship. It’s how you do it, right?” Bryce admits he doesn’t know what the best answer is, but his point is well taken. If, in the past, more people could better manage the conservation of this area for thousands of years, then there has got to be a way for this fewer amount of people to find a way to do so in the future, if not now.

"So how am I supposed to buy a cucumber from the grocery store that doesn’t come in plastic when they pretty much all come in plastic."

“Undoubtedly, people can minimize their impact on the environment around them. I think we see even evidence of that around here now. But, moreover, I think that people have a natural place in their environment and that there are many species that benefit from our presence when we live in a more natural type of way. And I would imagine that the Haida people long into the past probably had that relationship with the environment given that it was thriving before colonialism arrived here. We have many examples of how people have lived in harmony with the environment and how, even with greater population numbers, potentially, you can still have a balance there. So, we’ve got to figure that out here, right? And it is difficult because I think we can all imagine in our minds how it is that we might live more in harmony with the environment around us.”
 

Driving Forces

“But then, of course, we’re driven by money. All of our decisions come down to a cost-benefit analysis because capitalism is the way right now. So, you can’t really even blame the individual for often not making that choice even when they know how it is that they might be more harmonious with the environment.”

 Bryce Klee, on the beach outside his kayak, stand-up paddleboard and bicycle rental business, Queen Charlotte, Haida Gwaii.

Bryce Klee, on the beach outside his kayak, stand-up paddleboard and bicycle rental business, Queen Charlotte, Haida Gwaii.

“So, how do we do this,” Jason asks.

Bryce laughs. “How do we do it. Yeah, right? There’s so many easy wins right now, right? You could just reduce very easily just the amount of stuff one needs. The amount of packaging our food comes in; all the plastic that our stuff comes in. We don’t need that, right? But yet there it is. So how am I supposed to buy a cucumber from the grocery store that doesn’t come in plastic when they pretty much all come in plastic. Or, how is the average person supposed to make a choice for this type of stuff?”

“So who do we look to?”

“In my opinion, we look to the government to make this change. As individuals we push and we try to value the environment and the things we know will benefit it. But at the end of the day, if you don’t want to have food wrapped in plastic, the government’s got to, in my opinion, regulate that industry and say no more plastic is allowed. No more plastic packaging. And then the industry will adapt. I don’t think that me as an individual…I can’t choose one product versus the  other and expect that to make a meaningful change as much as a policy change. Yeah. That’s just my opinion, but I think it has to come from the top.”

Of course, as we have seen in Gwaii Haanas, one issue that has arisen, not just here, but in most aspects of capitalist societies, is that a small amount of people who control a certain something, usually stocks or other monies, get an inordinate amount of voice in policy directions. This time, at least according to Bryce, it’s effect has been to, “prevent meaningful change from happening.”