I had the opportunity of meeting with Dr. Kristen Lowitt and Dr. Charles Levkoe to discuss their involvement with a new network around Lake Superior called “The Lake Superior Living Labs Network”. The network is composed of different projects or hubs around that lake that are based out of university. As of right now, there are three different hubs and a fourth one is on the way. Kirsten and Charles are part of the “Exploring Food and Fishery Systems in the Lake Superior Region”.
The aim of the project is to connect sustainable fisheries to sustainable food systems. Their work began before the Living Labs Network but was essentially the birth of the network. Their work with the fisheries project required them to connect with people all around the lake. They have a big project in Batchewana Bay that made connections in Grand Portage, and Duluth. This project brought to light the limitations of working across borders and territories, and alose their importance. The fisheries project uses a watershed approach because fish, water, air, land, and ecosystems don’t care about borders. The work they do requires them to build connections and the living labs network was born out of the recognition and need to be able to make links and connect people, places, and environments that aren’t limited to a municipality.
The different hubs around the lake are all doing their own independent work, but the lab network recognizes the need that this hard work needs to be shared, this allows work to be recognized, collaborations to be made, and new projects to be developed. The hubs are a logistical way to create those partnerships and relationships.
The fisheries project started about 4 or 5 years ago from doing work around Lake Superior. Charles and Kirsten have published articles on different facets of fisheries such as one called “Where are the fish?” which covers topics such as the difficulty to purchase local fish, value changs for fisheries, the livelihood for fish harvesters, access to nutritious and culturally appropriate food sources in Thunder Bay. The two have started a project with a First Nations community doing partnership-based work regarding indigenous fisheries governance. The world on understanding more about their stories and the struggles the community faces such as fishing rights and food coverignty.
Moving forward, one thing they are interested in is learning more about initiatives broadly that are trying to link fisheries to different facets of food systems. Food systems are a way of connecting. Water health, water restoration and protection, fish health and fish stocks, and the livelihood of people are all components that are interconnected within a fisheries’ food system. They are hoping to make connections across the breadth of ecosystems and social systems while simultaneously documenting them and sharing them on their website. They also have intentions to expand their work to other Great Lakes. Kirsten just moved to Kingston which is on the shore of Lake Ontario. She has begun making connections to groups on Lake Ontario such as non-profit organizations that are doing work around water and fisheries where she is learning more about the history of various types of commercial, recreation, and indigenous fisheries around Lake Ontario. The plan is to start work that connects ecologically sustainable fisheries with equity and human health while collaborating with partners in civil society, in government, and in indigenous communities. The hope is to broaden the scope of their work.
One topic that came up, was the barriers to eating commercially available fish from Lake Superior. The reasons for this are complex. Charles and Kirsten did a circle tour with this topic in mind. One of the reasons could be around management and regulations. Question such as, who can harvest? how many licenses are available? contribute to the barriers. Plus it’s expensive for young people to start or to take over an enterprise when someone leaves. The way the quota system works, there are a lot of fish caught in Thunder Bay that are going to markets in the United States which also play a part in the dynamics. Then there is a cultural aspect. Do people feel connected to the lake? Do they feel that the fish are health and safe to eat? Do they know how to prepare whole fish? People also tend to prefer only eating certain species of fish, that may not be in high abundance or present in Lake Superior. Eat the Fish is one group in Thunder Bay that is working on making locally caught fish commercially available in Thunder Bay. They have been doing some work at the Thunder Bay farmer’s market to introduce them to types of fish they haven’t traditionally eaten. They do some recipes and taste testing and trying to get people back into eating fish and learning how to prepare it to encourage more consumption and build those food skills. At the end of the day, there are a lot of different pieces that come into play. One thing that Kirsten has been thinking about, is the fisheries decline and the abundance of fish and fisheries that used to present on Lake Ontario. Why aren’t we concerned with this and why aren’t we doing more to bring those fisheries back.
Dr. Charles Levkow brought up that point, that it isn’t accurate to say that people aren’t eating local fish. I think they are in a lot of different ways, there just aren’t many commercially available options. When the two commenced their circle tour a couple of years back, they found that a lot of people were fishing. Batchewana First Nation, for example, is doing commercial and sustenance fishing and protecting their traditional ways of fishing. The pair found about 5 commercial fishers around Lake Superior, but the majority of their catch is going to the states. There are a lot of people fishing around the lake and it’s a story that still needs to be told. Stories that connect to the bigger issues of connecting the environment, political economy, colonialism, and issues of racism are some stories that have emerged but have yet to be told.
We discussed threats to local fisheries. At first, I was narrowly focused on ecological impacts, but as Dr. Lowitt and Dr. Levkoe pointed out, is that the barriers to thriving local fisheries go far beyond ecological implications. Questions such as who can fish? and who should be fishing? What fish should be there for those people to fish? and questions about Indigenous rights around fisheries have not been adequately addressed. There is a strong need to recognize the rights of these groups that have been marginalized since the arrival of European settlers as well as the interconnection between fishing rights and the ecology of the lake. Ultimately, it comes down to decisions about whose voices are heard.
The next level to address the barriers and threats to local fisheries is to dive deeper and focus no just on who’s involved, but also on who is driving those decisions. Since the time of colonialism, the answer to who is driving the decision is the government. There is no process for indigenous sovereignty on the lake. The tensions evolved between FN and the state really come down to the state having rules and FN are expected to fall in line. Indigenous people are being asked to sit at a table that has already been set with rules that have already been made. The Cheif from Batchewana Bay has said that they need to come and sit at our table and listen to their ways of fishing based on the seasons and traditional ways of knowing. When the government makes decisions, they ultimately rely on profitability.
The living labs network is working to partner with First Nations communities on projects to move forward on similar goals. The projects develop out of relationship building. As academics, they can provide the funding and grants and bring those resources that can support the work for the community to direct.
One unique outcome from their work with Batchewana First Nation is a documentary that is hoping to come out this year. The documentary evolved out of the project of working with the community. The Chief came up with the idea to capture the stories from the elders and the community. The film is for the community, but it’s meant as a tool to share their stories with the outside world.
For those of you who are new or need a reminder, Peninsula Harbour is located on the north shore of Lake Superior approximately 290 km east of Thunder Bay and includes the Town of Marathon. The Area of Concern (AOC) encompasses both Peninsula Harbour and a portion of open Lake Superior. Peninsula Harbour has been deemed an AOC due to problems associated with bacterial contamination, aesthetic impairment, degraded fish and benthic communities, and high levels of toxic contamination such as mercury and PCBs that have been found in the fish and bottom sediments.
In the summer of 2012, a thin-layer sediment capping project was completed in Jellicoe Cove. Past industry activity from a pulp and paper mill and a chlor-alkali plant resulted in elevated levels of mercury and PCBs. To help create a clean habitat for organisms to thrive, Environment Canada and Ontario Ministry of the Environment funded this capping project to help accelerate natural recovery. The integrity of this project will be monitored for 20 years past its inception. This was one of the last major actions required to address environmental concerns in Peninsula Harbour.
Join us on Tuesday, January 26, 2021, from 10:00 AM to noon for a status update on the capping project, and review of beneficial use impairments (BUIs) in Peninsula Harbour. Presentations will cover the evidence for redesignating several of these impairments as “not impaired”. There are two ways to attend the meeting:
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Canada: +1 (647) 497-9391
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Access Code: 391-157-373
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The beginning of the year is often a time for reflection, renewal, and resolutions. With a tumultuous 2020, some people may be forgoing the usual resolutions and goal planning for 2021 to not get their hopes up. Some may also bash the idea of resolutions and goals, but I think there is merit to set your focus to improving yourself or in this case the environment. Oftentimes people get too caught up in the outcome and lose sight of the journey and the process. This year instead of making of goal to lose weight or workout at the gym 5 times a week, try thinking about a goal or a lifestyle change that can benefit both you and the environment. Transform yourself into the type of person who takes care of yourself and the environment. Here are 6 actions you can continually take to help improve the land and water.
1. Find your connection to the lake
“It is more important to be of pure intention than of perfect action.”- Ilyas Kassam. I think this idea of thinking is pertinent to being a steward of the environment. Perfection is an impossible standard, but if you like myself, have fallen victim to the allure of perfection, you’ll understand that that mindset can sometimes be debilitating. Finding your connection to the lake or the environment is critical for enacting change. Knowing your why and having pure intention is the basis of action. Developing a connection and appreciation for the lake is what will lead to actions that protect and heal the Earth. Everyone’s “why” will be different. Maybe you’re a passionate ice fisher and you won’t to strive for a low impact life to protect our winters and continue your fishing practice. Maybe you’re a swimmer and you’re concerned about the health of the water and the contamination that could be affecting both your health and the health of the organisms that call the lake home. Maybe you’re a parent and you have deep concerns about the future of the planet and what that means for your children. Whatever your connection is to the lake it is valid and can be the catalyst for igniting change.
2. Start a “Fat Jar” if you don’t have one already
With restaurants closed, many more people are staying at home and cooking their favourite meals in the comfort of their own kitchen. When cooking with fats, oils, and grease, make sure to not dump it down the drain. Oils and fats can cause your drains to clog which may lead to backups into yards or basements. Oils and fats also contaminate bodies of water. Use an old jar such as one from pasta sauce and pour your cooking oils into the jar. When the jar is full either dispose of it in the trash or with other solid waste
3. Use Phosphate-free Detergent and Cleaner
Recall our article with Nathan Wilson who notes that excess levels of phosphate can lead to algae blooms and kill fish and other aquatic organisms by reducing oxygen levels. Nutritionists suggest reading nutritional labels to make sure there aren’t ingredients and additives that negatively impact your health. Now it’s time to start checking your cleaners to make your cleaners are free of phosphates to help protect water quality.
4. Reduce your meat intake
Did you know that it takes 1,799 gallons to produce a pound of beef, but only 216 gallons to produce a pound of soy? (source). If you’re used to eating meat every day, try a meatless a Monday where all of your meals are vegetarian or vegan. Or you could try a meat Monday, where the only day of the week you can eat meat is on Monday. You could also try going vegetarian or vegan. Perfectionism isn’t the goal, conscious consumption is.
5. Say No to Plastic Water bottles
Reading “Whose Water is it Anyway?, Canadian author Maude Barlow clearly lays out the harms that plastic water bottles have. It’s not just the pollution and the reality that the majority of plastic water bottles are not recycled, it also shed light on the politics, capitalization, and health hazards that are associated with plastic water bottles. Tap water is usually healthier and safer than bottled water due to tighter regulations on tap water than bottled water, not to mention the huge price hike on bottled water. Limit the purchase of bottled water by keeping a bottle in your car or by your door as a reminder to take it with you when leaving the house. Pack one in your backpack for hikes and adventures. More and more places have water bottle refill stations and lots of shops or stores will usually fill up your bottle for no extra fee.
6. Do a clean up
With lockdown orders in place and social gatherings limited to your household. Take the opportunity to get outside and help the environment. Wear a mask, bring a bag and a pair gloves and go for a walk around the neighbourhood. When you come across a piece of garbage pick it up and throw it in your bag. When you finish your walk, tie up your bag and dispose of your garbage properly. You can make this a daily, weekly, or monthly event. You can go solo or get your whole household involved. If you’re feeling extra couped up, trying plogging. Plogging is a Swedish word that comes from the words plocka, meaning pick up, and jogga, meaning jog. Your actions may feel like a drop in the bucket, but they are still helpful. Imagine if everyone in Thunder Bay or your community picked up a grocery bag of garbage once a week.
There are of course many other actions that you can do that have a positive effect on the environment. Feel free to share other ways you mindfully act to reduce your impact on the environment through our “Contact Us” tab on our web page.
This month, Paige’s pick is “Whose Water is it, Anyway? Taking Water Protection into Public Hands” by Canadian author, Maude Barlow. I picked up this book while browsing a small bookstore in Toronto. As a water resource science student, any book on water issues is of interest to me. Maude’s name had come up in some of my classes and I thought of her of somewhat of an inspiration despite only knowing what had been talked about in class. The title caught my attention and immediately had me question rights about water and where our water comes from. To my surprise, the copy of the book was even signed! I bought the book and went home with good intentions to read it, but life got in the way and the book wound up sitting on my bookcase. I finally got around to reading it this past month.
This book is very topical in today’s world. Water is increasingly becoming a scarce resource. Although we often take water as a limitless resource here in Canada, the reality is far from the truth. Maude dives deep into the politics surrounding water rights. The UN declares access to water as a human right. Maude talks about the topic of water as a commodity. She discusses the impacts of bottled water, privatized water utilities, water trading, and virtual water. One initiative that Maude is apart of and talks about in the book is the concept of Blue Communities. The Blue Communities project focuses on three core values: “access to clean, drinkable water is a human right; that municipal and community water will be held in public hands, and that single-use plastic water bottles will not be available in public spaces.” (Maude, 2017).
The Blue Communities project may sound familiar, and that’s because on March 22 in 2015, Thunder Bay became a Blue Community. Thunder Bay’s location on the north shore of Lake Superior leaves the city as an excellent example for other cities located on bodies of water to take action and protect water.
This book makes you stop and think. It is inspiring to hear about cities globally standing up to big corporations such as Nestle to protect their local water resources. Yet at the same time, this book is also frustrating. It makes you wonder how things became so corrupted in the first place. There are stories about the struggles of communities around the world that are fighting daily to access clean water. One example is from the island of Fiji, known for its recognizable Fiji Water. The luxury water bottle brand may leave people to believe that all water in Fiji is comparable to the type of water found in its water bottles, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The majority of Fiji residents consume tap water which is carried in broken and contaminated pipes that is often full of typhoid and other gastroenteritis bacteria that leave often the people of Fiji sick from the infection.
This book will leave you feeling angry and frustrated but also inspired and hopeful. Maude Barlow touches on many concerns over water in this relatively short book. One premise that Maude introduces at the beginning of the book is the power of local action and this book is a blueprint for communities and people around the world to take action today to help protect water.
Three fellows set sail on Lake Superior earlier this year. Here is an interview with Ryan Asher Benjamin, one of the “sailors” as he’d put it about their adventure.
When was your trip?
Nik, Evan and I began our trip aboard Ol’Miss B’Haven in Midland (Lake Huron) on August 15th, and arrived in Thunder Bay on September 16th. So we were gone for a total of 32 days, although we didn’t sail everyday.
Where did you go?
We decided to follow relatively close to the shore for most of the trip. This way we could anchor every night, explore the coastline on foot and swim to shore in case of…you know. We anchored in mostly remote areas, but enjoyed the odd port in Killarney, Spanish, Blind River, The Soo, and Rossport. Lake Superior was definitely a different beast than Huron. Long stretches of remoteness and exposure to big open waters woke us up quickly to the severity sailing can possess. We had to hunker down during a burly storm in Wawa for 10 days waiting for our weather window to tackle the Pukaskwa Coast. We were lucky enough to know some of the generous folks at Naturally Superior Adventures who helped us with a place to stay and warm meals in exchange for some wood chopping and boat repair work. We made sure to warm up in some saunas on the North Shore on our final leg of the trip at Caribou and Porphyry Island.
How long did it take you to plan the trip?
Well, the plan was to get Thunder Bay. I think that’s all we really knew. Sailing cruising is so dependent on the winds, comfort level of the team, and of course how much gas is left in the jerry can, so it was hard to create a plan solid enough to follow. We had a rough idea of where we needed to stop (stock up on food and gas) and where we wanted to stop (saunas, shipwrecks and friends along the way), but for the most part we would plan our next day’s route the night before over dinner and rum punches.
What was your sailing experience going into the trip?
Haha…none. You might be thinking to yourself: “Well, if Ryan had no experience than the other two aboard Ol’ Miss B’Haven were probably Jack Sparrow level sailors.” You’re wrong. None of us had sailing experience. We do now though, need not worry.
What were some challenges you faced?
Oh boy, where to start. Things break all the time, you lose stuff overboard, fishing line gets caught in the propeller, everything from cooking to changing clothes is a team effort and people discourage you from going or worse, to turn back. Aside from the actual challenge of learning how to get the boat to move forward, left and right (aka sailing), the intrinsic characteristics of the trip were the main challenges. We, inexperienced “sailors”, were sailing a 21-foot swing keel sailboat AGAINST prevailing winds. For the non-sailors that means a f*cking small boat that rocks a lot and has to fight the wind constantly to make progress. Mild winds and/or waves could capsize us if we weren’t careful so we really had to pick our days and take full advantage of an east or south wind. Our sails ripped on our crossing from Pointe au Baril to Killarney and we had to spend hours sewing them back up to sailing standard, not a fun job.
What are the highlights from the trip?
This may sound cheesy, but the people we met along the way.
Let me paint a picture for you. You are 60-years old and have been sailing your entire life, you have finally bought the boat of your dreams; a 46-foot cruiser with all the modern amenities you’d ever need. You and your spouse can adventurously sail across Lake Huron during the summer months to escape amid the global pandemic. As you casually pull into the North Channel, one of the most renowned cruising destinations in the world, you notice a tiny vessel docked between boats that look more like yours. You approach it, hearing the sounds of guitar picking and mushrooms frying. To your surprise there are three young, scruffy lads crammed into the boat claiming that they are sailing to Thunder Bay and have already made it this far with no experience. They have no paper nautical charts, crappy rain jackets, a meagre 5hp motor, and a lot of eagerness. You can’t help but feel a little worried, jealous and curious. You have two options, tell them they are reckless and to turn back or respect the mission, share drinks and equipment and offer them every piece of knowledge you’ve gained throughout your years.
The folks who chose the latter route, were what made this trip so special. Sailing on the great lakes has become somewhat elite, set up for older sailors who have money. For some, our trip was idiotic, for others, refreshing. I can’t begin to express how comforting and reassuring it was to meet people who, amid a pandemic, were willing to lend a helping hand and offer their generosity.
Watching the Sleeping Giant form over the horizon was one of the most profound things any of us had seen, an unmistakable symbol that we were almost home. Oh, and watching the northern lights dance over the lake on our last night of the trip at Porphyry Island was pretty cool too.
Did your trip change your connection to the lake? If yes, how so?
Absolutely. I’m a recent graduate of Outdoor Recreation and Natural Science and last summer I worked for Parks Canada with the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area. As a student, my relationship with the lake was mostly for study – more of an abstract entity that was viewed from afar. With Parks Canada I deepened my connection with Lake Superior as an incredibly valuable resource teeming with history. I learned a lot about the lake and ways to actively appreciate and share it’s magnificence with people on the North Shore. However, this sailing trip was the first time I truly got to play on and experience the immensity and ferociousness of the lake. I’ve driven on the highway and flown to Southern Ontario countless times, but arriving powered by the winds along Lake Superior was by far the most connected and mindful way to travel. I recognized the true size of the lake, developed an even greater appreciation for the people who’ve lived and traveled along Lake Superior’s shores for millennia, the land is rugged and the water is vast. I have a special appreciation for Lake Superior and the beauty that surrounds it, and this trip helped solidify the lake’s wonder in my mind forever.
Do you have any advice for people wanting to get into sailing?
Sailing can be one of the most rewarding ways to travel and can be incredibly meditative. I, by no means, am an expert but I know this trip is a stepping stone to longer and abroad sailing expeditions. I strongly encourage everyone who wants to sail to go for it, don’t let a culture of elitism in outdoor recreation stop you from going for a sailing trip. There are so many good resources online and sailing handbooks that taught me most of what I know now about sailing. For racing experience, the Thunder Bay Yacht Club at the marina offers the opportunity to anyone to join a crew to help during the evening race. I’ve crewed on raceboats a couple of times since the trip and found it to be very helpful in getting to know the boat, terminology and sailing principles. I would definitely recommend crewing on several different boats before going out and buying one to set sail on a long voyage. Recently I’ve been looking online to join a crew for a Pacific Island hopping trip on websites like Crewseekers.net and other workaway sites. Either way, the feeling of travelling a long distance powered by forces of nature is a remarkable thing that should be experienced by all at some point!
Ryan is working on a short film that documents the journey the three “sailors” took this summer.