Rising temperatures and the loss of ice cover is devastating the whitefish population of Lake Huron, say members of an advocacy group that spoke to Sarnians recently.
“I didn’t think I’d see this in our lifetime,” said Natasha Akiwenzie, who lives at the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation near Wiarton. “It’s very concerning.”
Whitefish require ice cover to protect them during spawning and a rise in water temperature is taking a toll on reproductive survival, she said.
Her husband Andrew Akiwenzie earned his living fishing Lake Huron for more than 20 years. But about eight years ago he started noticing a sharp decline in the number of whitefish.
“We used to catch 200 pounds of whitefish with our eyes closed,” she said. “Now we’re lucky to find six to eight pounds – just two whitefish – in a day.”
At the same time, trout numbers in Lake Huron have risen thanks to government-backed efforts to restock the Great Lakes with large game fish that appeal to recreational anglers, Akiwenzie said.
Trout are less popular than whitefish for eating and don’t bring in the same income, she said. What’s more, trout are predators that eat the smaller fish important to the lakes’ ecological balance.
Akiwenzie is co-founder and manager of the Bagida’waad Alliance, a not-for-profit group created in 2018 to draw attention to the impact climate change is having on the Great Lakes, as well as support scientific research and stewardship.
Climate change is causing large fluctuations in water levels that erode shorelines and pose a danger to anglers and boaters, said Victoria Serda, a Bagida’waad Alliance board member who joined Akiwenzie for a virtual Golden K Kiwanis Club presentation.
“I have been working on global warming issues since the 1980s but I didn’t understand what was happening on the water until I talked to Natasha and her family,” said Serda, one of the first Canadians trained to lecture on climate change by Al Gore, the former U.S. vice president and author of “An Inconvenient Truth.”
Learning about climate change through an indigenous lens has been eye opening, said Serda.
“Indigenous elders teach how sacred our collective responsibility is to take care of our land and our water,” she said. “The elders may not necessarily have the scientific wording, but they are often expert witnesses.”
Rising water temperatures are, among other things, encouraging the spread of invasive species that impact native fish populations, Serda said.
Akiwenzie said she and her husband told government authorities eight years ago that changes in the lake were real and becoming obvious.
“But we weren’t listened to. We were told there was no algae in the lake, yet we were finding it,” she said.
That motivated them to create the Alliance. Its projects include a student program called Aki guardians, which teaches young people about connection to nature and what they can do to slow climate change.
THINGS YOU CAN DO
- Organize a beach cleanup.
- Eat local.
- Bike, don’t drive.
- Pick up litter.
- Use reusable bags.
- Avoid single-use plastics and plastic wrap.
- Talk to others about environmental concerns.
- Don’t shy away from discussing climate change.
- Think about the life under water. Don’t pollute.
- Try composting.
– Source: Bagida’waad Alliance