» Information Democracy Information Democracy | Ecotrust Canada


Lost or abandoned fishing gear (also known as ‘ghost gear’) makes up 70% of the plastics that disrupt our oceans’ ecosystem. After fishing gear has been disregarded by fishermen from all over the world, the gear continues to catch and harm fish and other marine inhabitants that cannot escape anymore.

Fishing gear like the nets are mostly made out of plastic and when resting in the ocean, they can leak toxins, kill and harm local wildlife and ultimately  end up as pollutants in our water and fish of the area. The main contributing factors of fishermen leaving their gear behind are  weather, gear conflict, and illegal fishing.

Ecotrust Canada is a partner in the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), working to defining best practices and informing policy for seafood stakeholders. Our Project Manager for Fisheries & Marine Monitoring Jennifer Paton shares more about our work within this initiative.

The world’s largest initiative to remove disused fishing gear

The GGGI was founded in 2015 by World Animal Protection to protect our oceans and the life within them. It is the world’s largest cross-sectoral alliance committed to driving solutions regarding the removal of derelict fishing gear. While the problem of ghost gear has been worked on in the past, it was done in a small , national and rather unorganized manner.

Today, governments, NGOs, researchers and industries from 13 participating nations collaborate in sharing data and best practices for the  removal and prevention of ghost gear. I participated in the GGGI conference in Bali this October, which gathered the cross sectoral group together to address the problem, and participants from all over the world highlighted issues and solutions from their area.

Scaling up local best practices to a global level

The GGGI’s work has three areas of focus: building evidence; defining best practices & informing policy; and catalyzing & replicating solutions. As a part of the best practices team, we put out a large report of recommendations on how to minimize lost and abandoned gear, and we’re also working on short fact sheets targeted to specific seafood stakeholders. The group has been active in offering  input to seafood certification bodies, governing agencies or commissions, as well as industry associations.

In the history of Ecotrust Canada’s collaboration and work with the GGGI, we’ve also made recommendations on new regulations around better tracking of fishing gear, especially regarding the small scale fishing industry in Canada. It has also enabled us to learn more about progress in fisheries monitoring, reporting and tracking in other parts of the world.

Way to go!

Ultimately, the initiative is looking to change behaviors to prevent fishing gear loss, although the conference also highlighted all kinds of clean ups and recycling efforts worldwide. The clean-up of nets, pots, hook & line and fads is currently done either by privately engaged boat owners, divers, fishermen themselves or governmentally and corporately funded initiatives. When the ghost gear is retrieved from the water, which is made out of mixed material, our goal is to reuse it as part of the marine plastics recycling chain.

Examples from all over the world can be found here: https://www.ghostge–ar.org/projects/

Just recently the Government of Canada has joined the GGGI and members in BC will be getting together in 2019 for a workshop to discuss and implement some regional solutions learned at the conference. We are looking forward to the next year and an ongoing partnership in the future!

For more information about the GGGI, visit: https://www.ghostgear.org/



September 5th marks the International Day of Charity – established by the United Nations to recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms is an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. This day creates a time for us all to reflect and mobilize around how we voluntarily give our money, goods or time to those in need, either directly or by means of a charitable organization.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who make donations, big and small, in support of our vision of people and nature thriving together. At Ecotrust Canada, we are firm believers that the solutions to poverty lie in a hands-together approach, so that communities are equipped with the tools they need to create widespread prosperity. That means creating opportunities for meaningful work and prosperous livelihoods while also ensuring the health of our environment is sustained.

This short video shows the impact of one of our most recent projects, tackling housing and energy in partnership with the Heiltsuk Tribal Council, in the remote community of Bella Bella, BC. The results are impressive – reduced heating costs, improved air quality in their homes, and better health for their children.

If you believe in our vision, please consider a one-time or monthly donation to help us continue our vital work. Our Board of Directors has kindly committed to matching any new donations made during the month of September, up to a limit of $10,000 – doubling the impact of your money!

From coast to coast to coast, our work helps to transform communities into vibrant, sustainable and interconnected hubs of health, justice and security. It couldn’t happen without your support.

Thank you.

VANCOUVER, BC –(Marketwired – June 28, 2016) – Up to 84 per cent of the traditional territory of the Blueberry River First Nations (BRFN) is now negatively impacted by industrial activity. This was the major finding of a new report released today, the Atlas of Cumulative Landscape Disturbance in the Traditional Territory of Blueberry River First Nations, 2016(the 2016 Disturbance Atlas).

The 2016 Disturbance Atlas finds the Province of B.C. has not only continued to authorize industrial development in the BRFN traditional territory, but has done so at an accelerated scale and rate, despite its knowledge of the worsening cumulative effects on BRFN traditional territory.

“Elders and land users give me daily reports of continuing damage to our lands and water,” says Blueberry River First Nations Chief Marvin Yahey. “Development has extinguished our traditional way of life on wide areas of our land.”

The 2016 Disturbance Atlas, commissioned by BRFN and the David Suzuki Foundation, and authored by Ecotrust Canada, follows findings of the 2012 Atlas which found widespread impacts. Since then, BRFN lands have continued to be damaged by multiple layers of development including oil and gas, forestry, agriculture and roads.

2016 Disturbance Atlas’ most significant findings:

  • Nearly 75 per cent of the area inside BRFN traditional territory is within 250 metres of an industrial disturbance, and over 80 per cent is within 500 metres.
  • Active petroleum and natural gas tenures cover nearly 70 per cent of BRFN traditional territory.
  • With over 100,000 kilometres of linear features in BRFN territory, linear density has reached levels vastly exceeding known thresholds for wildlife habitat.
  • Of the total area of B.C. reserved for pipelines via tenures, 46 per cent (13,000 kilometres) falls within BRFN traditional territory.
  • Nearly 200,000 hectares of BRFN’s traditional territory has been logged since 1950.
  • While 60% of B.C. is considered intact forest landscape, BRFN traditional territory has little intact forest landscape remaining — less than 14%.

“The findings of the 2016 report clearly show that even though the provincial government had clear notice of the scale of harm that existed, including those found in the 2012 Atlas, it has worked to make the problem worse, not better,” says Chief Yahey.

Since the 2012 Atlas was publicly released, the government of B.C. has authorized construction of more than 2,600 oil and gas wells, 1,884 km of petroleum access and permanent roads, 740 km of petroleum development roads, 1,500 km of new pipelines and 9,400 km of seismic lines in BRFN traditional territory. Also since that time, approximately 290 forestry cutblocks were harvested in the Nation’s traditional territory.

“Fracking, forestry, roads and other development is pushing us further and further to the edges of our territory and we are no longer able to practice our treaty rights in the places we’ve always known,” says Chief Yahey.

BRFN has repeatedly requested action from the B.C. government to uphold the guarantee that was given to them by the Crown under Treaty 8. This includes a lawsuit launched against the province by BRFN in March 2015, over the breach of Treaty 8 due to the unprecedented scale and rate of industrial disturbances to the land.

“Despite raising these concerns directly with the premier and with provincial ministers, there has been no meaningful response to this critical threat. Instead, the province continues to approve major industrial undertakings in our territory, including major fracking operations and the Site C Dam, willfully ignoring that each new approval brings our unique culture closer to extinction,” says Chief Yahey.

BRFN has outlined critical areas that require immediate protection. These include areas with some of the most important remaining zones for hunting, trapping, gathering food and medicinal plants. BRFN has also urgently requested the establishment of a cumulative impacts assessment and monitoring program for its territory that would guide decisions about land use and resource extraction in the territory. This request was made directly to the premier in September of 2014, but B.C. has not responded.

As a result of the province’s unwillingness to address this urgent problem, BRFN has used their own resources to develop a ​Land Stewardship Framework (LSF)​. The LSF is a response to the damaged condition of the territory, the lack of designated protection areas in the territory, and the lack of a comprehensive and effective policy framework for stewardship. The LSF offers a science-­based solution to these issues and represents a pathway to sustainable development in the territory.

BRFN wants to ensure that generations to come are able to meaningfully exercise their treaty rights to live off the land. The ability of BRFN’s children to hunt, eat moose, harvest berries and medicinal plants, and learn their language while on the land, hangs in the balance.

The maps and data for the 2016 Disturbance Atlas were compiled and authored by Ecotrust Canada based on publicly available information.



Rachel Plotkin, David Suzuki Foundation

“The Atlas reveals an ecological and a social justice crisis. There is no question that the cumulative effects of industrial activity in Blueberry River First Nations’ traditional territories have led to habitat degradation such that the land can no longer offer sustenance such as abundant caribou populations.”

Eliana Macdonald, Atlas Author, Ecotrust Canada

“Ecotrust Canada is proud to help Blueberry River First Nations pursue their treaty rights. This legal battle is one example among many of the lingering disconnect between government and First Nations, and it is our hope that this atlas can help people better understand the true scale of changes to our province’s landscapes, and their impacts on rural communities and First Nations like Blueberry River First Nations.”




Fact Sheet

“It’s a windless day,” I noted in dismay to Chas Fritz, Ecotrust Canada’s Project Manager and GIS technician.

We were standing in downtown Vancouver, at the edge of the empty parking lot that hugs the northwest corner of False Creek. In my hand, was a limp 9 ft wide Delta kite attached to a 1000 foot long kite reel. What wasn’t attached to the kite was a compact digital camera I was hoping to loft into the air to capture aerial images of the banks of False Creek. It was late January and I was leading a DIY aerial photography and mapping workshop in collaboration with Ecotrust. We were interested in comparing the footage we hoped to capture with existing maps and imagery of False Creek to examine how industry and human activity have changed the shoreline over the last several hundred years.

This method of mapmaking was developed by Public Lab, a non-profit I am affiliated with as an organizer. It’s part of the toolkit I am using to document the lives and environment of the communities along the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which I have been doing since October 2014 on a Fulbright-National Geographic grant focused on digital storytelling. In addition to personal documentation, I am organizing and leading community workshops along the way, showing people how they can gain the skills to make their own maps of the places they live. The project’s premise is, could mapping be a way to engage communities in seeing their environment from a different perspective? Could oral histories and storytelling be combined with maps in a creative way, stretching the limits of digital narratives?

My research and these questions led me to Ecotrust’s doorstep. I had the great fortune to connect with Chas, who introduced me to the mapping, data collection and traditional knowledge projects that Ecotrust has produced, Living Atlas being one of them.

I learned that the work, information and data that Ecotrust gathers to help First Nations negotiate and navigate resource management decisions within forestry, fishing and energy projects were similar to the kinds of information I am also interested in gathering as well, but for a more creative, multimedia outlet.

I am in the final months of my grant and still on the road. What all the interviews, photographs, audio recordings and video I’ve gathered will become remains to be seen. Read my blog post on National Geographic about the False Creek mapping to find out what happened.



Ann Chen is an artist and researcher from New York. She is a Fulbright-National Geographic fellow in Canada and is interested in the creative use of mapping, data, community-driven science and storytelling. She visited the Vancouver office in January 2015 and co-organized a community mapping workshop of False Creek at the end of her stay.

Who owns BC’s fishing licences? Where has Ecotrust Canada worked? Where are BC’s most innovatively managed forests?

To answer these questions and more, we’ve thrown our hat into the data visualization ring with data.ecotrust.ca. From forestry management to fisheries licensing, we like to think our interactive charts and graphs are a refreshing alternative to data tables and spreadsheets.

Click below to explore the ins and outs of BC’s resource economies.

On May 4, 2014, members of our Skeena team showcased some of our fisheries and other work at Science World’s Community Science Celebration at the North Pacific Cannery in Prince Rupert.

The event was a great opportunity for us to show off our tools and solutions and bring the business of fishing back to the community. More than 350 people came out to the event and learned about our ongoing programs in the region by:

  • Testing an electronic monitoring system and RFID scanner, just like the ones commercial crab fishermen use in Hecate Strait (but without the salt water, waves, wind and rain!)
  • Challenging friends and family to tally counter races – could they beat our Dockside Observers or data analysts?
  • Practicing biosampling with the salmon scales, vials, tweezers, and calipers used by our At-Sea Observers
  • Exploring 100 years of salmon catch data, as well as spawning and rearing habitat areas in the Skeena watershed
  • Checking out First Nations land and occupancy mapping, as well as our work in Living Proof
  • Discussing the landed value of fisheries – and how it’s not the only measure of a fishery’s worth
  • Learning about our interactive tools like the Fisheries Diversification Model, Living Atlas, and ThisFish

The North Pacific Cannery sits near the mouth of the Skeena River, the second largest salmon-producing river in BC, so salmon questions were a big part of the day. But not all of them were for us – we polled the crowd for questions they would ask a fisherman and got some really good ones. We’ll be sure to share those in another blog!

We were thrilled by the community’s interest and enthusiasm – thanks to everyone who came out, and a huge thanks to Science World and North Pacific Cannery for making such a great event possible!

Ecotrust Canada has always had a techie bent. In a world where information often equates to power and where the best information ‘wins’, our organization has always used mapping and other technologies to ensure that communities are equipped to participate fully in social, economic, and ecological decisions that affect them. Use and Occupancy Mapping for Aboriginal communities is one example of our work in this arena.

Understanding the power of imagery led quickly into the design of software that would allow communities and industry sectors to ‘model’ alternative scenarios and test their assumptions. We know that choosing the right/best pathway from the clamour of many options is never easy, and that getting it right can ensure the wise use of increasingly limited funds. Our Fisheries Diversification Model for instance, allows fishing communities to create investment plans that enable the economic, social, and ecological future they want, on a timeline they can manage.

And because we understand that technology can be fun as well as informative, the Ecotrust Canada team is now including interactive and consumer-facing technologies in our suite of offerings. ThisFish™, which allows consumers to trace their dinner back to its source, is proving to be a powerful offering in the marketplace – changing how people think about their food and building greater transparency across the food chain.

With two of our team presenting this week to TED delegates at BCIC’s Vancouver pre-conference event, we know that Ecotrust Canada’s suite of funky, smart, accessible, and highly practical technology tools are positioned to change the game because we’re actively designing tech for a better world.

The third round of cutbacks to Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s resources has finally hit. DFO’s already-meager budget is shrinking and its libraries are closing. CBC News and The Tyee have both covered the story in recent weeks, but what effects do these cutbacks have on scientists and researchers? What does this loss of data actually mean to someone who uses these fisheries records?

I am just such a person. I work with DFO data on a daily basis and I am very familiar with the current difficulties in accessing fisheries data. I get most of my data from WAVES, DFO’s online library, and through data requests from the department. Data requests are the only option for detailed information on past harvests, but they’re cumbersome and can drag on for months. WAVES is a good source for management plans and other documents, but it generally lacks precise numerical data. More datasets are hidden in the back corners of DFO’s website, but they tend to be vague, inconsistent, and hard to find – I discovered most of them by accident.

And what about the Government of Canada’s Open Data initiative? The much-lauded effort has promised to release data like never before. As of this writing, the Open Data portal contains 189,106 datasets. Surely digitized fisheries records are in there, right?

Let’s look for data on BC’s commercial fisheries. A search for the word “fisheries” yields 30 results, but these include reports on locations of snow research stations, maps of vegetation in the Northwest Territories, and descriptions of petroleum reserves in the Beaufort Sea. Only 2 are anywhere close to what I’m looking for: West Coast Fisheries is a map of harvests from 1952, while Fisheries Resources is a Canada-wide map of fishing areas from 1995. Neither will be helpful in my work.

But I’m pretty lucky. My work tends to use harvest tallies going back to 1996, essentially the low-hanging fruit of fisheries data. I truly feel for scientists trying to study fisheries on longer time scales – a necessary task to determine long-term species population trends – as anything prior to 1996 would be found in the paper files in your local DFO library. Or DFO dumpster, as the case may be.

Digitizing and making these records available online – as the Government of Canada has promised to do – would be a welcome leap forward in the promotion of open data, but it is becoming apparent that this will not be delivered. In a statement to CBC News, Fisheries Minister Gail Shea promised that “Users will continue to have completely free access to every item in DFO’s collections.” Unfortunately, DFO’s current information systems are being dismantled and what is left is neither complete nor free: a far cry from what Canadians need.

Andrea Robertson is a Fisheries Project Analyst at Ecotrust Canada.

Dear Friends. It is again that time of year when I reach out to you – our extended community of supporters, donors, partners and collaborators – to share the story of our work and to ask for your help.

Our annual appeal letter continues to serve as a vehicle through which we can report back on the successes that you have inspired and cast our eyes forward on the work that lies ahead.

Over the past 12 months we have seen some remarkable successes:

  • The Coady Institute at St. Francis Xavier University selected us as one of ten leaders in North America for citizen-led innovation
  • Charity Intelligence voted us one of their top seven charities in Canada
  • We received a Clean50 Award in recognition of our outstanding contributions in the field of sustainable development in Canada.

We are building important blueprints that are being used to shape economic change at home in BC, in other parts of the country, and around the world.

We appreciate this recognition because the work that we do is often really challenging. With boots on the ground and boats in the water, we stand at the intersection of environmental, social, and financial interests. In this arena, Ecotrust Canada “holds space” for critical discussions of change, creates new tools and approaches to balance and satisfy multi-party interests, and demonstrates in the marketplace that wealth creation can result in social and ecological improvements rather than degradation.

At Ecotrust Canada we are learning how to grow a tiny seed of an idea into a successful venture that reflects our vision for a conservation economy. We have learned how to move private capital into initiatives that create social, environmental, AND financial gains. We know that stepping into unknown territory – with all the challenges, nay-saying, and push-back that new approaches engender – is a vital beginning to the creation of something new.

This is work for today, as well as work for future generations. The imperative to find new ways to do business does not allow us to play it safe. It requires that we be daring and bold and brave, because finding the models that will work in complex times cannot be invented with pen and paper. They can only be designed through deep and purposeful engagement with stakeholders and through experimentation in real time and place. It is this explorative and visionary work that holds the promise for a new model of economic order.

Throughout the month of November we will be sharing the stories of our work and inviting you to support us in our campaign to grow the conservation economy.

In whatever way you choose to help, your contribution is greatly appreciated.

With thanks,

Brenda Kuecks

Commercial fishing in BC is highly regulated, with dozens of different licence types, each with their own rules and gear requirements. As each fishery becomes more and more specialized, those participating in commercial fishing are increasingly vulnerable to environmental or economic changes. A recent study [1] confirms that by diversifying the types of fisheries they pursue, harvesters can substantially reduce the variability of their fishing income.

Ecotrust Canada’s Fisheries Diversification Model is a tool designed to help small fishing groups and communities explore fisheries data and plan more invest in more resilient fisheries.

As part of our research for the Fisheries Diversification Model, we looked at commercial licence reports from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to find out how boats currently diversify their fisheries across different licences. By combining the reports and analyzing the results, we produced a visualization that allows the user to quickly identify trends in the data.

The photo above shows a portion of the licence stacking matrix. You can explore the interactive version here.

Some combinations of fisheries are logical and were expected. Sablefish and Halibut, for example, are both groundfish that can be caught with similar gear, so it was no surprise that 70% of boats with Sablefish licences also hold Halibut licences, as shown in the screen capture above. Other licence combinations were a little less intuitive: nearly one third of all Groundfish Trawl licences were paired with Herring Roe by Seine licences, despite the fact that the two fisheries target entirely different species in different areas with different gear.

We are strongly committed to promoting responsible fishing and building a resilient, sustainable seafood sector in BC. We know that communities looking to develop their fisheries investments face a tangled web of regulatory requirements and a growing cost of access. By drawing on our strengths in data analysis and interpretation, we hope to make these barriers to entry a little easier for communities to cross.


 [1] Kasperski, Stephen & Holland, Daniel S. 2013 Feb 5. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. Volume 110 # 6, pages 2076-2081. Abstract