Alberta shut down all commercial fishing in the province on August 1, and as the Northern Journal reports, it’s left a number of people across the province high-and-dry. The NORJ’s current article on the subject features Ray Ladouceur, a long time fisherman and Métis in Fort Chipewyan. He is out not only his livelihood, but also tens of thousands of dollars for fishing boats and equipment that hasn’t been compensated. Yet another hit to a sustainable livelihood in the north.
If you’ve been on the ground in northern Alberta, this closure was largely seen by many as a cynical response to repeated claims by Indigenous Peoples that the fish downstream of the Athabasca Oil Sands are unhealthy and are making people sick. In our own health study conducted in the community over 2 years, we determined that there is a statistical link between regular consumption of fish locally caught fish, and cancer, in Fort Chipewyan. As we reported earlier this summer, the government still has yet to comment in any meaningful way on the study and the troubling reality it represents. Instead of cleaning up their act, Alberta cynically shut down the commercial industry to “protect” it for anglers and tourism, both of which have co-existed perfectly fine since day one. It would pain me not to mention that most anglers are rich ‘Moniyas‘ from the south who can afford to fly in to lodges.
In the rationaile for the shift from the Alberta.ca website, “[t]he closure will help to ensure we can meet the increasing pressure and demands placed on the province’s limited number of lakes.” It’s unusual working, since the demands are no longer a viable commercial fishing industry. So, what demands are they trying to meet? I’ll put forward a rewording:
The closure of the commercial fishing industry in Alberta will help us to ensure we can meet the increasing pressure and demands placed on the province’s limited number of lakes, which we have a penchant to treat as though they were dumps and tailings ponds. Other pressures include the exponential expansion of resource extraction in the province, resulting in tailing’s pond breaches, skyrocketing mercury levels in gull eggs, cracked caprock leaking bitumen to the surface, drying out muskeg, and the risk of national or international lawsuits due to polluted fish likely causing cancers in human beings. Lastly, the fallout of emissions from oil sands refining operations is elevating our natural lakes’ contaminate levels to mimic what we find in urban areas. The many demands we place on our lakes and rivers include damming and water consumption of the rivers for Oil Sands projects. By shutting down our commercial fisheries, we are covering our own behinds as well as hoping something will be alive in our waterways once we’ve made every dollar possible from our natural resources.
Michael Tyas is the managing editor of One River News. He graduated the University of Manitoba with an honours degree in environmental studies, and is a professional videographer and video trainer. He produced the feature length documentary "One River, Many Relations" in Fort Chipewyan. He continues to work with indigenous communities to share their stories around resource extraction, industrial development, and impacts on traditional territories.