Although I am not new to fishing or sailing on open waters, the Prairie Girl in me is still thrilled whenever I’m invited to join the crew of a boat. Any boat. Even if it is -2 degrees C on February 1st, at 8:00 in the morning!
Now to be fair, it was a gorgeous, sunny morning without a cloud in the sky or even the hint of a breeze. The ocean was like glass as we left Comox Harbour, and we were on our own with only the birds and a few sea lions to share the quiet space. And I was not freezing in a 14 ft aluminum fishing boat – I was thoroughly comfortable on Danny Claire’s 40 ft Comox Harbour Charters’ vessel, with a heated cabin if I needed to take the chill off.
Our destination this morning was to check the half dozen crab traps that Danny and his friend Peter set once a week or so. In the process, of course, we passed the Courtenay River Estuary which I learned is the second most important estuary in all of British Columbia. They are naturally rare, comprising only 2.3% of BC’s coastline, but with 442 in total, ours is second in importance only to the Frazer River Estuary in terms of ecological significance and contribution. Estuaries are semi-enclosed bodies of water where fresh water from rivers or streams mingles with the salt water of the ocean. They trap the nutrients and sediment that is carried from the land by rivers, and from the ocean by tides. These conditions make it ideal for supporting an enormous abundance of plant and animal life, and make them one of the most productive types of ecosystems on earth. The Courtenay River Estuary provides habitat for 145 bird species, approximately 70,000 birds in total, 218 plant species, and 20 fish species in addition to other intertidal animals and organisms.
I can tell that Danny is very proud of this part of the Island, the only home he has known, and enjoys sharing memories and educating his passengers while he navigates the waterways. While today was not intended to be a sightseeing trip, he shared stories about the Royston Wrecks – where at least 14 retired ships were sunk back in 1937 to make a breakwater for the log booming grounds; and of the Manatee Holdings Hatchery, where their tanks hold millions of geoduck seeds in addition to sea cucumbers, scallops and oysters.
We talked about Goose Spit Park, or Pelxqikw, which means ‘round on point’. We planned gourmet picnics, which he loves to set up for customers at the end of the spit. And we chatted about everything from fireworks and local herring spawning grounds, live band performances on the back of his boat, family picnics on Tree Island, kayak side trips, and barbecuing oysters which he picks up directly from the source at Hollie Wood Oysters on Denman Island.
Unfortunately, while I picked up interesting tricks and new things to try for crab trapping, we only managed to get a few on this trip. A rather disturbing discussion ensued about the decline of shellfish in the area overall. Qualicum’s “Island Scallops” lost 10 million scallops in 2014 due to the higher acidity levels of the local waters, resulting in scallops that have less robust shells and are more susceptible to infection. According to a study published in “Global Change Biology”, scientists have found that seawater is growing more acidic due to carbon-dioxide emissions. Although the populations of dungeness crab fluctuate year by year, their overall abundance by 2063 could be about 30% lower.
As I finish these notes, I realize that today, February 2nd, has been deemed “World Wetlands Day”, commemorating the 1971 signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (the Ramsar Convention). How apropos. It looks like March 9th is National Crabmeat Day – maybe I will convince Danny to take me out again then and we will have better luck with the traps!