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Irrepressible Howe Sound

An enigmatic fjord swirling with the after-effects of industrial activity and shining with remarkable comebacks of nature

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It's reasonable to expect the costs associated with the cleanup and dismantling now are far less than the costs to clean up after something catastrophic happens, states the report.

Herring stages a comeback

Buchanan has spoken with many long-term residents from Squamish who vividly recall the days when a huge commercial herring fishery existed in Howe Sound.

"I remember one of the old-timers telling me that it seemed like you could walk across these commercial herring fishing boats from one side of Howe Sound to the other."

But by the 1970s, the herring were completely wiped out and Buchanan says he believes overfishing was the biggest contributing factor.

Herring are resilient, he says, but overfishing combined with pollution from industrial activity likely caused their demise.

"It's a thousand cuts that ended up killing them, I think," says Buchanan.

This is where the Squamish Streamkeepers have been fundamental in aiding in the return of the herring.

Since 2005, the group has embarked on a herring recovery project, focused on wrapping creosoted pilings with weed control material to enable herring to spawn on the pilings in the Mamquam Blind Channel and the east pier of the Squamish Terminals.

Creosoted pilings spell death for herring roe.

Cooley points out that according to scientific studies, there is a 90 per cent mortality rate for herring roe on creosoted piling.

"And if they don't kill the herring outright, then they cripple them, they are deformed and they don't become effective fish," says Cooley.

"In the U.S. they no longer allow creosoted pilings to be installed so we're ten years behind the States, I'm embarrassed to say."

Cooley deems the program a success and estimates that about 600 tonnes of herring this past year have returned to Howe Sound.

He points to the return of Pacific white-sided dolphins, orcas and Dall's porpoises as a strong link to the return of the herring roe as the dolphins feed on the herring. In fact, in 2010, a grey whale showed up in the Squamish Estuary for the first time in 100 years.

"Because of the herring, there's been a revival of life throughout Howe Sound," Cooley says.

That revival has also been documented by the Vancouver Aquarium's Howe Sound research program. Since 1981 the group has conducted field research and long-term monitoring of habitats and animals in the sound.

On July 10, Vancouver Aquarium fish research scientist Jeff Marliave had the opportunity to take part in a mid-water trawling expedition onboard the WE Ricker with Department of Fisheries and Oceans — the first deep water trawl to be conducted in Howe Sound.