Though it’s been a long time coming, the declining eelgrass growth in James Bay is finally being discussed once more in the House of Commons.
In March 2008, Crees from Chisasibi, along with their Chief Roderick Pachano, spoke in the House about the dramatic decline of eelgrass growth within James Bay through the assistance of Bloc Québécois MP Yvon Lévesque, Abitibi-James Bay-Nunavik-Eeyou.
They reported that up until the ’90s there had been an abundant supply of eelgrass for the fish to spawn in and the migrating geese to feed off in the spring and fall but since then it has diminished, significantly.
With fewer birds around to hunt, the hunting practices of these Crees are no longer comparable to those of their ancestors. The ecosystem is changing and so are their way-of-life.
In response to this, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans recommended that the federal government in cooperation with the provinces and territories, conduct in-depth research into the effect of environmental changes on the eelgrass beds of James Bay. They also recommended that the federal government establish, within its jurisdiction, a program of research and large-scale monitoring of the ecosystems of James and Hudson bays. This was all reported back to Pachano on June 13, 2008.
The problem is that since June 13, no progress has been made. While parliament was supposed to report back within a mandatory three-month time period after such an item is presented, last fall’s federal election suspended these activities.
According to Lévesque, the motion had to be renewed recently but this time the government will have no choice but to respond, once again within the standard three-month period.
The good news is that should there be a consensus in the House amongst the parties, the large-scale study, that will span the provinces of Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba, will finally be commissioned.
At the same time, Lévesque said that what kind of action will be taken after the study’s results are presented will be entirely contingent on the “source” of the problem.
“We found out that there is another problem with the eelgrass – there is now a cadmium problem. For the time being, we need studies,” said Lévesque.
Though cadmium has been documented scientifically as something that can affect the growth of eelgrass beds, whether that is the source of the problem within James Bay has yet to be proven.
Pachano theorized last year that major changes in the ecosystem came about with the increased water flow through the La Grande River from the diversion of the Caniapiscau River, the Eastmain River and now the Rupert River due to Hydro-Québec development. The freshwater flow in turn has caused the waters to have few slower periods compared to the past when there were many more throughout the year. This has also caused a change in the salinity of the water. Then there is the issue of turbidity caused by the increased water flow and sliding earth that has come from the development in the area.
Amidst all of the political bantering, the people of Chisasibi are still losing out and are fearful of not only the decline in eelgrass and geese but what this could mean for the rest of the ecosystem.
Samuel Cox, who works at the Chisasibi Band Office as the local Niskamoon Coordinator, said that he used to hunt along the coast but he has been forced to take his hunt inland for over a decade now.
Cox said he was unsure if another study right now is really going to make that much of an impact amongst the people as this problem has been ongoing for so long and nothing has changed.
“We just want to find a way to get back the eelgrass and find out if this can happen because then things might change for the goose population. That is what people are saying. Right now there are not as many, they have changed their patterns,” said Cox.
Cox also explained that the migration of the hunters has affected the goose hunt since more helicopters are being used to transport them which can prevent the geese from landing to feed. At that, he said that he and many others have noticed a significant and inexplicable increase in bald eagles in the area over the past few years and they too have been scaring off the geese.
“They are very wary of the birds, even the snow geese,” said Cox.
A response as to whether the federal government will be commissioning a full-scale study on the eelgrass in James Bay is expected to come in June.