Laurie Chan (left) participates in a First Nations Food, Nutrition & Environment Study workshop in Thunder Bay in November 2014. Chan is the corresponding author of a new study on the potential impacts of climate-related seafood decline on coastal B.C. First Nations’ nutrition. (FNFNES Facebook photo)

B.C. First Nations’ intake of essential nutrients could drop by 31%: study

Professors project the nutrient decrease by 2050 if climate change mitigation continues as is

B.C. coastal First Nations’ intake of essential nutrients will have decreased by 31 per cent come 2050 if climate change mitigation continues as is, university professors from across Canada are projecting.

The projected drop in nutrition is based on the results of a questionnaire that surveyed coastal B.C. First Nations on what seafoods they depend on as part of their diet, along with the results of an ecological model.

The food frequency questionnaire, led by University of Ottawa professor Laurie Chan as part of a national First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study, was completed by 356 coastal First Nation respondents between 2008 and 2009.

The questionnaire determined the top 20 seafoods consumed by the six coastal First Nations that were represented in the study: Sliammon; Namgis; Nuxalk; Skidegate; Kitsumkalum; and Hagwilget.

For example, the questionnaire found that 62 per cent of respondents who said they consume seafood (351 out of the 356) include herring roe in their diet, at an average intake of about three grams per person, per day.

Top 20 most consumed seafood species in coastal First Nations in B.C., ranked from greatest to least mean intake


Then in 2016/17, University of British Columbia professor and fish biologist William Cheung developed an ecological model to predict the impact of climate change on the Pacific Northwest fish species cited in the food frequency questionnaire.

The model predicted that all species will decrease in abundance by 2050 relative to 2000, with the exception of kelp greenling.

For example, herring is projected to decrease in abundance by 48.7 per cent if climate change mitigation efforts stay the same as they are now.

Herring is the seafood projected to suffer the second-highest impact, behind shrimp and followed by salmon.

Projected changes in relative abundance of seafood species under lower and upper scenarios of climate change in coastal First Nations in B.C. by 2050 relative to 2000


READ MORE: Wild salmon council calls for immediate action

For the study published on Feb. 27, Chan and his colleagues then projected the potential changes in nutrient intakes, replacing the traditional seafoods expected to decrease in abundance with non-traditional foods such as bread, canned tuna and chicken.

All of the projections were published in an article on the peer-reviewed PLOS ONE website.

“It’s not looking good,” said Chan, the corresponding author of the article. “A lot of the good nutrients, like the omega-3 fatty acids, cannot be replaced.”

Even under “strong mitigation,” which Chan characterized as countries cutting back on carbon dioxide emissions rather than keeping them at current levels, projected climate change was still estimated to reduce the intakes of essential nutrients by 21 per cent by the year 2050.

“No countries are committed to cutting back really,” said Chan. “In fact most countries, including the U.S., are increasing emissions still.”

However, Chan said the Feb. 27 article was “really the first crack” at a long-term study.

He said it’s important for them to work with the coastal First Nations to find out if they are actually seeing declines in seafood, and if so, what courses of action they might take.

“We assumed that if people don’t have that fish they can replace it with either bread or chicken or canned tuna. These are the assumptions on this paper, because we had to assume something, not knowing what the reality is, but in reality it’s probably not true,” said Chan.

“Some communities would share fish from other communities for example, or they might buy seafood from elsewhere. We don’t know. Whatever communities’ response, we need to verify and make it more real.”

Chan said that due to funding constraints, they will be continuing to work with four of the six nations that originally participated in the food frequency questionnaire: Sliammon; Namgis; Nuxalk; and Skidegate.

He said he completed a funding proposal in partnership with the four nations and the First Nations Health Authority earlier this month to continue work on the study.

READ MORE: B.C. communities push back against climate change damages campaign

“Now we are working … to try to get information from the four nations and figure out if the harvest, the catch indeed declines as predicted, what might be the consequences in terms of food on the plate and what the communities can do to improve their food security,” Chan said.

“We need to work with the medical officers in the coastal health authorities to see if there’s deterioration of diet quality, then what do we do, because it will impact the health of the people.”

Chan also noted that while the Feb. 27 article projected average impacts on nutrition, in reality some people will be impacted more than others, such as single parents.

“These are the things we need to work out, how food is distributed, who might be more susceptible, who might be at high risk, and then what will the people decide, what programs can we develop to deal with these types of predicted changes,” he said.

Chan said he is hoping to get funding in the summer and restart work on the study in the fall.

“This is very new research and lots of people are very interested in our work, including colleagues from the U.S.,” he said.

“We hope that all the lessons that we learn in British Columbia and probably later on in Washington State can be learned and shared with all the coastal populations around the world.”

READ MORE: Ignoring climate change poses potential catastrophe for B.C.

Skidegate First Nation is the northernmost nation participating in the study.

While Chan said the southern communities are expected to be impacted more than in the north, Skidegate chief councillor Billy Yovanovich told the Northern View he has seen seafood catch depleting “quite steeply.”

“When I was a kid I used to be up at the Charlotte dock all the time and the herring used to be right in there thick and they’d spawn on the pilings to be about a half of an inch, three quarters of an inch think,” Yovanovich said. “I’ve never since then seen a spawn in on the pilings there.”

Yovanovich said he figures the declines have been due to fishing pressures, but added that “the temperature has gone up substantially from when [he] was a kid.”

“There used to be snow, 2, 3 feet of snow in the winter all the time, extensive, longer winters,” he said, remembering having to pack water because the water lines would freeze. “Now we’re lucky to get just a little skiff during the winter season.”

READ MORE: Surviving climate change

Yovanovich was not able to comment on the study since he has not participated personally, but he said Skidegate has already started working on some food and nutrition security strategies.

To take advantage of the warmer weather they’re experiencing, he said they’re promoting garden boxes for people to grow their own vegetables and planting community fruit trees.

“There used to be fruit trees all over,” he said. “For whatever reason most of them are gone now, but we’re starting to plant a bunch of fruit trees.”

He said he and his partner got the idea after planting a couple apple trees last year for personal consumption.

“We had a couple dozen apples off of them and we thought, ‘Wow, that’s pretty good, we should mention this to our table,’” he said. “The table thought it would be a good idea to order some, so we’re planting I think it’s about 80 in our community, so people can have free fruit.”

Yovanovich said they plan to plant the fruit trees this year.



karissa.gall@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Museum at Campbell River and Greenways Land Trust are hosting a virtual talk by UVIC PhD candidate Garth Covernton on Nov. 5. Tickets are only $7 and are available at crmusum.ca. Photo courtesy Garth Covernton
New Museum at Campbell River speaker series leads off with talk on microplastics

Tickets for digital event Nov. 5 are only $7 and include the opportunity to ask questions

North Island Votes. Campbell River Mirror graphic
Babchuk declared winner in North Island

Nearly three-quarters of votes counted and mail-in ballots still to come

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Provincial Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau speaks at Provincial Green Party headquarters at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe in Victoria. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)
VIDEO: Furstenau leads BC Greens to win first riding outside of Vancouver Island

Sonia Furstenau became leader of BC Greens one week before snap election was called

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Most Read