Mtm gathering trip in Nuxalk

We share a post from Luke Mack dated March 3, 2017 about a mtm (sea urchin) harvesting field trip.

We took students out on the inlet to gather mtm over the span of two days in early March. We had the wisdom of Stanley King, Nuxalk elder, the guidance of Ernie Tallio, Coastal Guardian Watchmen Program Coordinator, and the help of Darwin Anderson, certified commercial diver, to help harvest Mtm. 


Ernie approached Peter Tallio, SEAS Coordinator at the Band Office, about taking students out on the water to harvest mtm. Peter then contacted me and from there, I was able to gather students to go on this excursion. After consultation, we picked students who are enrolled in Biology 12 and two students from the Alternate Education Program. Over two days, we took science teacher Michael Worsly and students Carlos Edgar, Victoria Moody, Jaidn Elkins, Levita George, Louie Mack-Nelson, and Fa’a Vae Va’a.
On the ride to the wharf on the first day, I explained to the students that we needed to be on the water during low tide to harvest. Low tide was at 9:38 am. I told them it was the best time to get them because of the length of our dip-net. I also told them it was best to go after a snowfall. Just our luck, it snowed on Tuesday night. I told them an Elder, Jimmy Nelson Sr., said mtm like to rise higher to the surface after a snowfall. Maybe it makes the surface cooler and the mtm like the cold more.  

The first area we checked was the rock faces across from the docks at the base of Mount Pootlass. Stanley mentioned that when they were younger, they would drift down the river to the same rock face and collect mtm in skiffs. After they collected their harvest, they would row across the estuary and be picked up. We floated right up to the same rock face Stanley described and tried to look for any sign of mtm.  

Carlos and I sat the bow of the boat keeping our eyes peeled for any mtm. Victoria joined us after awhile but was helping from the hatch she was standing through. Soon after, Jaidn joined us in looking for mtm. We were having no luck in finding any mtm but kept busy by observing the rock face and admiring the sights. Three of us noticed how murky and cloudy the water was and how it made it tougher for us to see anything. We made comments of how much fun it would be to swim in the area, jumping off the rock cliffs. Ernie would maneuver us back and forth but unfortunately, after looking for about 30 minutes, we had to abandon the area and then Stanley suggested we head to Windy Bay.

Windy Bay is about six miles away and it took us about 10 minutes to get there. Upon arrival, Carlos and myself climbed to the bow of the boat to begin our search for mtm.  

Right away, Carlos and I noticed how much clearer the water was and how much further we could look down into the water. At our first place, we were able to only look four feet down whereas here we could look roughly 15 feet down. Once we settled, we began our search and right away, we saw some mtm. They looked like white puffy balls sticking on the rock face under water. A few were isolated but once we started to find them, they were in groups. Carlos got excited and called up Victoria, Jaidn, and Levita to come look.  

Once they got up front, they were excited at seeing the mtm and were ready to harvest them. I used the dip-net first and grabbed a few off the wall and showed the students. They were really excited and were holding, touching, and looking at them. The dip-net was about 14 feet long. We spent a good 30 minutes dipping for mtm and were somewhat successful. We managed to pick two pails of mtm for the school. During the picking, the students showed lots of excitement and enthusiasm.  

On the way to the wharf, I mentioned that they will be required to have a taste of mtm. With that in mind, after we were all done picking and the tide was up, Stanley came to the back deck and showed us how to open the mtm, and what to eat. 

I felt it was a good day, getting the kids out on the water, experiencing the fisherman life, and showing them the valley from a different view. I really enjoyed it because they showed a lot of interest in the rock cliffs, their situational awareness, their enthusiasm when they first seen the mtm, and their attitude of learning.

On the second day, we travelled straight to Windy Bay with Louie, Fa’a Vae, and Michael along with Ernie and Stanley. This time, we hired a commercial diver, Darwin Anderson, to help pick mtm.  After finding the mtm from the previous day, we were better prepared in gathering as much mtm we could for the school and Elders in the community.  I learned what to look for and expected what to see. I did my best to teach Louie, Fa’a, and Michael of what to look for once we got to Windy Bay.  

As we pulled up to the rock face, the students were able to identify what mtm look like and were impressed.  Once we settled in and got everything ready, Darwin was preparing himself to dive for mtm. Ernie and Stanley made a makeshift basket out of herring netting which Darwin would use to pack the mtm. Darwin had the basket filled within 15 minutes. 

While Darwin was in the water, Louie and Fa’a were both using the dip-net to harvest. They were sitting at the bow of the vessel and working with Ernie while he maneuvered us back and forth from the rock face. 

Louie and Fa’a seemed to enjoy themselves as they were working together in harvesting. Michael seemed to enjoy himself doing this activity and learning about mtm. A learning point came when Louie and Fa’a both noticed that we couldn’t tell the difference between a male mtm and female mtm. I thought it was a good question but we learned mtm may be both male and female. During this time on the water, Stanley told us mtm like to eat everything, that’s why there are so many in certain areas. I also noticed there were nothing on the rock walls like seaweed, algae, or plant life in the areas we were picking mtm.

We picked mtm for another good 20 minutes before the tide came up, making our dip-net too short to reach any mtm. Our day was shorter than the last because we were more prepared,
When we got to the wharf, we unloaded the vessel and we had picked three pails plus a blue tote full of mtm. With Stanley being an elder, we agreed to let him take a bucket for his help and knowledge. I brought the mtm we harvested to the school for the Traditional Foods Program minus some for the students. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this activity because we were able to provide an opportunity to bring students out on the water, learn more traditional foods, try mtm, and have a positive hands on experience. Also, seeing the students’ reactions to seeing the mtm in the water made the whole experience more positive. Nothing beats seeing the excitement radiating from students.