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It started with a phone call: how our investigation into B.C.’s trawl fishery came together

The months-long investigation not only recounts the threats faced by observers, but also calls into the question the effectiveness of a Fisheries and Oceans Canada program

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It started with an unexpected phone call over the Christmas holidays.

A monthly member of The Narwhal rang us to update their credit card number — and, while they were at it, tipped us off about major failings in the oversight of B.C.’s trawl fishery.

What a story it turned out to be. On Wednesday, after months of digging, we published our investigation revealing that a system designed to ensure the trawl industry follows the rules is being exploited — with untold environmental impacts.

At-sea observers, the very people tasked with being Canada’s fishery watchdogs, are often subjected to threats and harassment. The pressure to under-report the downsides of deep-sea fishing has led to an estimated 140 million pounds — or $1 billion-worth — of wasted fish.

“We’re totally destroying the [fisheries] for future generations. Completely,” said Jon Eis, one of 11 current or former observers who spoke with reporter Jimmy Thomson for the investigation.

Jon’s decision to blow the whistle proved critical: “This story wouldn’t have happened if Jon hadn’t been willing to speak with me,” Jimmy explains.

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Reporting a story like this takes time and resources. But Jimmy knew how important Jon would be to getting it right. “He needed to be convinced that I was capable of understanding this. So I did my homework.”

That homework included talking with Jon in person or over the phone at least 14 times, not to mention exchanging hundreds of text messages.

The result of that dogged reporting is a sprawling investigation that not only recounts the threats faced by observers, but also calls into the question the effectiveness of a Fisheries and Oceans Canada program meant to prevent over-harvesting.

Producing this story meant giving Jimmy the time to do extensive reporting, contracting an illustrator to bring the issue to life and having a lawyer review multiple drafts to mitigate the legal risk of publishing such a hard-hitting investigation. Thanks to the support of our members, we were able to do just that.

We hope you are staying healthy and safe.

Arik Ligeti
Audience Engagement Editor

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‘You’re out there alone’: whistleblowers say workplace abuse hides true impacts of B.C.’s trawl fishery

Jon Eis Fisheries observer The Narwhal

By Jimmy Thomson

A months-long investigation by The Narwhal, including interviews with 11 current or former at-sea observers, reveals a culture of intimidation and harassment that has resulted in the vast and systematic under-reporting of deep-sea fish harvested from B.C.’s coastal waters. Read more.


Alberta suspends at least 19 monitoring requirements in oilsands, citing coronavirus concerns

Alberta oil and gas Coronavirus environmental rollbacks

By Sharon J. Riley

The Alberta Energy Regulator has told companies they can stop some environmental monitoring programs, from groundwater sampling to keeping track of how many birds land in toxic tailings ponds. Read more.


Yukon flood warnings force First Nation to move on plans to establish community facilities in mountains

Old Crow flooding climate change

By Julien Gignac

The Vuntut Gwitchin planned to construct a cultural area in the mountains over the next 50 years — but now with rising waters threatening to force people to flee during the coronavirus pandemic, the community is accelerating plans. Read more.


What rock-bottom natural gas prices mean for Canada’s aspiring LNG industry

LNG tanker

By Sarah Cox

10 things you should know as the coronavirus pandemic ‘implodes’ the already-shaky economics of exporting Canadian liquefied natural gas. Read more.


How the Williams Lake flood in B.C. is linked to wildfire and deforestation

Fraser River near Williams Lake

By Natalia Balcerzak

Water-repellent forest floors, soil erosion and a lack of tree cover all influence how snowpack melts in the spring. Read more.


The Narwhal in the world

Sharon J. Riley Digital Publishing Awards Amber Bracken

In case you missed it, The Narwhal has been nominated for eight(!) Digital Publishing Awards. That nomination tally puts us behind only The Globe and Mail and CBC — less than two years since we launched this publication.

Go here to read about the stories that are up for awards, including features on the clear-cutting of a Canadian rainforest as well as the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s fight against a mining company.


What we’re reading


Note from a Narwhal

We’re still blushing after this message from Dianne, who became a monthly member just a few days after our Digital Publishing Awards nods: “The Narwhal exhibits the very best of environmental journalism in Canada. Congratulations on your nominations; well deserved!”

Help us publish more award-worthy work by becoming a monthly member of The Narwhal today.


When you see the award nominations roll in. Turn up your speakers and celebrate by sharing the link to The Narwhal’s newsletter.

Arik Ligeti is The Narwhal’s audience engagement editor, with a focus on growing a dedicated community of members and readers.…

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