Project WET Canada, Fishing for Success at Island Rooms of Petty Harbour aims to teach youth and tourists about the natural and cultural heritage of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador through the re-creation of traditional family inshore fishing practices. In a recent issue of the Canadian Water Resources Association magazine WaterNews, Kimberly Orren, the project manager and founding director of Fishing for Success, explained why water education is a core part of their mission. "If we are going to hitch kids with nature through fishing, we need to connect with what they are learning in the classroom before (and after!) youth come out to Fishing for Success," she notes in her following guest post, an adaptation of the WaterNews article. "Increasing kids' contact time with water education through Project WET instruction in the classroom contributes to the success of our own aquatic education program."A Canadian not-for-profit and member of
Public concern is what most often drives the development of new policy regarding our water resources, which in turn supports the publicly funded research projects in which many of us are engaged. How well our research is funded is dependent upon how well educated our citizens are about the issue. How well we have educated the public will dictate the extent to which our aquatic resources are conserved. Educating the public and communicating with them effectively about not just the research that engages us, but about basic environmental literacy is paramount to our professional survival and our survival as a species.
While we may understand how the health of our aquatic resources is directly linked to our own health, others may not recognize the link between a healthy ecosystem and the economic and social benefits that our culture currently enjoys. An increase in the urbanization of our population (81 percent of us live in population centres today versus 19 percent in 1871) has removed many of us from the daily interaction with nature that reminded us of our dependency upon the natural systems of the earth. Furthermore, that foundation that many of us enjoyed as children—outdoor play in natural environments that sparked our interest in science—is just not available to urban children today. Kids aged 10 to 16 now spend an average of up to 8 hours a day on a screen! This generation will soon be our voting public, the citizens who decide the policy that shapes our world.
For Oceans Day 2015 Fishing for Success participated in an Open House event at the Marine Institute in St. John’s, Newfoundland. We brought a traditional exhibit of saltfish drying on a flake, and we also brought a collection of freshwater macroinvertebrates and some tadpoles, too. In just five hours we were able to connect with about two thousand people! What was the most popular part of our display? The tadpoles and the dragonfly nymphs; parents exclaimed that they hadn’t seen tadpoles since they were “little” and they did not know that dragonflies began life in the freshwater. The children were enthralled; most of them had only seen tadpoles in a book. Being able to touch these small wriggling creatures was a new experience for them. Needless to say, our tadpoles were exhausted by the end of the day, but they served us well as “freshwater ambassadors.”
NASA recently announced finding a "new earth", Kepler 452b, an exoplanet that is similar to our own Earth. It too exists within its star’s habitable zone—the region in its solar system in which the temperature is just right to allow for liquid water to exist on its surface. Life as it is known to us cannot exist without liquid water. While NASA searches the sky for other planets with liquid water, it seems that we are experiencing an unprecedented challenge to protect and conserve the water we have right here at home. Effective management of our aquatic resources is vital to ensure our survival and the survival of other life upon which we depend.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the settler culture developed for 500 years around the activity of the small boat family fishery; when I was a child, I could participate in this fishery. When the fish came in, the entire community would help to process the fish; the men did the fishing, the women processed the fish, and the youth helped in gutting the fish or “cutting tongues.” I became a science geek because of this early, meaningful contact with nature. As a youngster I was aware of the origins of our food, and how the acquisition of that food was dependent upon the health of our aquatic resources.
Just over a hundred years ago, nearly all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were directly involved in the fishery. In 1992, just as the cod moratorium was being called, 30 percent were employed by the fishery. Today, only 2 percent are engaged in commercial fishing. Fishing families are leaving the rural communities and moving to population centres to look for work. And the fishery that remains has changed: the boats and fishing gear are bigger, the wharfs are concrete, and blocks of frozen bait are moved about by forklifts. The policies and regulations now in place to protect fishers at work have further distanced our youth from a traditional activity that forged their connection to place and identity. Our youth no longer have easy access to an intimate relationship with nature or a connection to their heritage.
Fishing for Success believes that our youth must have meaningful and practical interactions with our aquatic ecosystem if we are to expect them to protect and conserve these resources. In Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove, the fishing families have worked together to keep gill nets out of their Protected Fishing Area. This community is the ideal place to teach youth about conservation of a natural resource; even during the commercial cod fishery, cod is fished with a handline and single hook. Our goal is to get our youth on the water—in a boat—fishing! Then their fish will be provided to a community kitchen or food bank. Youth will learn where their food comes from, the importance of a healthy aquatic ecosystem and then link that to human survival.
Fishing for Success is partnering with the Wooden Boat Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador, Food First NL, Choices for Youth, Too Big To Ignore, a local grocer and fish processer Bidgood’s Fresh Food Market, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Newfoundland and Labrador Chapter, and Northeast Atlantic Coastal Action Program, to name just a few. Our fishing heritage is connected to everything! Our water resources are connected to everything! It takes not just the support of the town—it takes all of us!We can’t do this alone; it takes many partners to make this work!
And this is where Project WET comes in: If we are going to hitch kids with nature through fishing, we need to connect with what they are learning in the classroom. Before (and after!) youth come out to Fishing for Success, increasing their contact time with water education through Project WET instruction in the classroom will contribute to the success of our own aquatic education program. By working together we can get kids outside once again. By hitching together and forming partnerships, we will have a better chance of creating adults who see the linkages and connections between their aquatic ecosystems and their own health.
Fishing for Success at Island Rooms of Petty Harbour is grateful for the support of the Canadian Water Resources Association for sponsoring the Project WET program in Canada. The Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Environment and Conservation is the provincial partner in providing the resources for upcoming workshops to teachers. And finally, without the support of our local coordinator Kyla Brake, none of this would be possible. By working together we can educate our youth about their aquatic resources, guaranteeing that we will have environmentally literate citizens who are better prepared to shape the future policy that will govern the protection, conservation and management of our water here at home.