A Short List for Saving Salmon
Story by Mark Hume with Photography by Nick Didlick
Saving Salmon: Over lunch with www.ariverneversleeps.com, Ron MacLeod, a former director general of the department of Fisheries and Oceans and Ken Kirkby, an artist and environmental activist, spoke about the need for a Speak for the Salmon campaign.
Mr. MacLeod recently proposed the campaign, saying the public needs to be mobilized to start demanding of politicians that we have better fisheries management of wild salmon. Mr. Kirkby, who helped restore the salmon runs in Nile Creek, on Vancouver Island, and who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of art to salmon causes over the years, agreed that people need a simple list of actions, so they can demand accountability from political leaders. The ‘Top Five Actions Needed Now to Save Salmon’ was one of the things that emerged from their conversation.
“The one thing about the salmon is the passion they stir. You don’t get 300,000 people going to see the sockeye spawn in the Adams River without that passion. That’s what we need to tap into now – that passion for the salmon.” – Ron Macleod.
Question: What are the key things that can be done right away to help salmon?
Ron: They want to take gravel from the Fraser, but that shouldn’t be allowed. That’s one thing they can change right now. Pink salmon spawn in that gravel and pinks are a buffer in the system. You need to protect those stocks.
Ken: We restored the pink stocks in Nile Creek and it had a cascading effect through the whole ecosystem around there. The Coho came back, the cutthroat came back….and in the late summer you find the motels and restaurants around there are full of fishermen again. So the fishermen and the local economy came back too.
Ron: The proposal to take gravel out of the Lower Fraser is a classic problem of economic factors outweighing more important environmental concerns. If you want to preserve salmon in the Fraser, you leave that gravel there. But of course they want to mine it because they can sell it by the truck load. And it is allowed to happen because there is no effective environmental enforcement going on. DFO has had its budget cut and has been getting rid of its staff. They are saving money, but without enforcement on the water, you have nothing. . .
This is important now and for the future. We know that with climate change we will lose a lot of our stocks, but you want to save that core, so they can adapt and rebuild.
Ken: Let’s not talk about climate change in this project. We need to keep it simple so people can climb aboard. We need a list of simple things that can be done, by everyone. We need to create a groundswell of emotion among young people.
Question: What would that simple list look like?
Ron: Top three of my list would be stopping the removal of gravel from the Fraser, run of river regulations to control the power projects being built all over the province, and regulations to control the rate of forest cut in any given watershed.
Question: Does logging have that much impact?
Ron: In Rivers Inlet they destroyed one of the most productive salmon streams on the coast. They just went in there and cut everything. Rivers Inlet is very steep and has a lot of rain and without the forest there to act as a buffer, the river began to have more flash floods. It changed the mix [of fresh and salt water] at the river mouth, and it affected the fry when they came out of the river in the spring. Rivers Inlet went from a run of over a million [sockeye] to a few thousand fish.
One of the great challenges we have, of course, is that you can’t say with scientific certainty that there will be a bad impact from any action [such as logging or power dams or gravel mining] until it happens. Then is obvious – but it is too late. So a lot of projects are allowed to go ahead, when they just shouldn’t because of the risk involved . . .
For 100 years Rivers Inlet was incredibly productive. We went in and logged it, coincidentally at a time when the ocean wasn’t that productive, and we destroyed it.
It is another reminder of the need for us to adopt the precautionary principle when dealing with projects that could negatively impact salmon.
Ken: Salmon should always be at the heart of what British Columbia is about. Salmon were here long before the first humans arrived. What are the consequences, what does it mean, if we lose salmon? What does that say about us? Do we really think we have the right to squander a resource that should be here for the generations yet to come? How shameful would that be?
In this movement I think we need to make it clear to people that they can stop this from happening if they get involved. If they take action instead of sitting meekly by while this great resource is stripped from us. We need to say, here are the things you can do as an ordinary citizen that will make a difference.
Question: Don’t you think the first thing on that list should be: get politically involved? Don’t worry about what light bulbs you screw in at home. Don’t worry about whether or not you drive a fuel efficient car. Don’t you think people should be told that, above all else, they have to make sure that we as a society are led by politicians who care about salmon?
Ken: There’s no doubt – that is the number one thing people have to do. If you don’t care enough to use your vote for salmon, then don’t talk to me about protecting salmon.
Ron: Absolutely. We need to vote for a change in the way we manage our fisheries. That’s why the B.C. election is so important. I see the election [in B.C., May 2013] as kind of a dry run for this movement.
If this [salmon lobby works] Prime Minister Harper will have to take notice.
Ron and Ken agreed the top five actions needed to save salmon are:
1) Get politically engaged. Ask your local candidates about salmon issues and only vote for those who are willing to make salmon a priority.
2) Stop the mining of spawning gravel in the Fraser River.
3) Tightly control the development of power projects on B.C. rivers so that there is no impact on salmon.
4) Regulate the rate of forest cut in all salmon watersheds.
5) Restore funding to DFO with environmental enforcement and application of the precautionary principle made top priorities.