Rewilding Coal Harbour: it would mean shoals of flounder, sole and herring

Coal Harbour in 1904

Three years ago, Vancouver Park Board set about “rewilding” Vancouver with a special program to reintroduce lost species, habitat and ecosystems. The focus was on land-based species, but what would it take to “rewild” Burrard Inlet, once the scene of an abundant fishery?

This could be a live issue if Burrard Inlet ever suffers the insult of an oil spill.

Thanks to David Ellis for sharing this testimony at the 1905 Dominion Fisheries Inquiry, where fisherman R. T. Burtwell set out what was lost when Canadian Pacific Railway expansion began to interfere with fishing operations in Coal Harbour:

R.T. Burtwell (recalled) testified as follows:

The Witness. — Mr. Macpherson wants me to take this matter up. The matter is this, the fishermen who fish for the local market have been in the habit for many years of fishing in Coal Harbour with drag nets. In the fall, winter and spring, the herring, smelts, soles and flounders all seem to congregate in Coal Harbour. The conditions in the harbour have entirely changed and the men are now precluded from hauling their seines there owing to the CPR improvements. In other places where they could haul, there are no fish. Again, in the north of Burrard, when the herring come in, the men would have to haul on the spawning grounds. Now at the present time Vancouver harbour is simply teeming with fish and the men are perforce idle.

Such is the price of “progress.” Given how quickly herring returned to False Creek, however, after habitat was improved, there’s no doubt Burrard Inlet could be restored, hopefully without the spur of an oil spill.