Speak for the Salmon Generates a Wave of Interest

Story by Mark Hume with Photography by Nick Didlick

After Ron MacLeod and his Speak for the Salmon campaign was profiled in The Globe and Mail, he got hit by a wave of e-mails.

“They haven’t stopped coming in,” the former director general of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said at his retirement home in Whiterock, a few weeks after the story ran, in late 2012.

Mr. MacLeod and his old friend, Al Wood, had just released a paper, ‘Epic Fail’, which hit a nerve with the public. The paper described the crisis they see in the management of salmon on the Pacific Coast.

They said the federal government, with the acquiescence of the government of British Columbia, were effectively managing salmon into oblivion. They equated it to the Atlantic cod collapse, an environmental catastrophe which the East Coast has never recovered from.

Ron MacLeod (L) and Al Wood (R)

Ron MacLeod (L) and Al Wood (R)

How to turn back the tide in B.C.?

Mr. MacLeod, who is still ready for a fight at the age of 88, said it is going to be up to the public to create an outcry.

“People have to demand action from politicians,” he said. “They have to force this issue on to the political agenda. That is the most important first step.”

Mr. MacLeod said it will take more than a handful of people raising the issue. It will take a mass.

Significant change will only happen, he argues, if politicians become convinced that an important number of votes hang on their party’s salmon platform.

“Currently … there is no one at the highest level of government to speak for the salmon,” Mr. MacLeod says. “The first step, then, is a British-Columbia-wide Speak For The Salmon campaign to get people to bombard governments and politicians (federal, provincial, municipal) with the news that: residents want healthy wild salmon stocks in their future, [that] failure to protect salmon habitats creates an undue risk for salmon, [and that] B.C.’s salmon heritage is too important to put to undue risk.”

Ron MacLeod

Ron MacLeod

Mr. MacLeod’s hope is that enough people will ask political candidates about salmon that “the penny will drop” and they – politicians at all levels of government – will finally realize that people care enough about the welfare of the fish to let it affect their vote.

And he argues that in fighting to save the salmon we are really taking on a much bigger cause.

“Roderick Haig-Brown had it right when he said if you have healthy salmon stocks, you have clean water, and that equates to having a healthy society,” said Mr. MacLeod.

In other words, if you save the salmon, you can save the world.

Judging by the e-mails that Mr. MacLeod has been getting, a lot of people agree with him.

Bruce Adkins, a former DFO employee wrote to say: “I understand and agree with much of what you and Al have said. Clearly something needs to be done and that something needs to be a fundamental change in how we the public communicate with and influence government.”

Many offered to help support the Speak for the Salmon campaign. Ken Berg, of New Westminster, put it most simply when he wrote: “I would like to join the salmon revolution”

Lawyers, doctors, CEO’s, the heads of NGO’s wrote saying they wanted to join the movement too.

“As an avid conscientious fisherman over the past 50 years, this revolution is long overdue,” said Rose Blewett, of Bella Coola.

Iona Campagnolo, a minister in Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s cabinet in the 1970’s, and the 27th Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, thanked Ron for “being an expert example of an engaged Citizen!”

Dr. Charles Chestnut, President of the The Wellness Practice Global Self Health Corp., made this insightful comment: “It does not matter what is in a document. It only matters what people know AND FEEL. It is emotion that drives EVERYTHING. You have to get the public emotional about it. You cannot do this with a document. Public opinion is the only hope for the salmon.”

James Delorme, Chief Councillor of the Klahoose First Nation, thanked Mr. MacLeod for his analysis of the problem, and said, “I am feeling optimistic. I must say you are breathing a life of real solutions [into this issue] rather than empty rhetoric.”

Chief Delorme said he would like to see how First Nations could become involved with the Speak for the Salmon campaign.

Al Wood

Al Wood

Others wrote to suggest that perhaps NGO’s, such as the Pacific Salmon Foundation, could help run the campaign, but Mr. MacLeod rejected that idea. He thinks it has to be a grassroots movement, with no political affiliation and no fear of losing funding from governments or any other source.

Why is this a fight worth joining?

Perhaps Norman Farrell, of North Vancouver,  best captured what is at risk if we don’t do something to save the salmon, when he about being a kid, in the mid-1950’s, watching the salmon spawning, bank to bank in a creek near his Powell River home.

“We fished regularly from an 8 ft.  punt around Lang Bay and Douglas Bay and never returned without salmon. I tried to interest my own children in fishing those same grounds in the 80’s, but there were so few fish remaining. Now, my grandchildren are left without the experience of vibrant ocean life in that region. Sad, I think.”

If salmon are lost for a generation, people will forget what they once had.

There were many, many others that wrote touching and insightful notes to Mr. MacLeod. But we’ll leave the last word to Eddie Gardner, a member of the Skwah Band, who identified himself as a “Wild Salmon Warrior” and had this to say: “I welcome your infusion of new energy that can ignite a fire in the hearts of voters and shine a light on the urgency of changes that are essential at the federal, provincial, municipal and ground level. Salmon are sacred and I believe we can build on the powerful collective force already in play to make this a dominant issue at upcoming elections, starting in 2013 at the provincial level.

“I am very excited and enthusiastic about joining your ‘Speak for the Salmon Campaign’ and I agree British Columbians will come out in droves to join as the majority are captured by the amazing spirit of wild salmon.”

UPDATE: The Speak for the Salmon campaign officially launched March 2nd 2013 and have a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/speakforthesalmon

Editors Note: Epic Fail was featured on A River Never Sleeps in December and is linked here. A profile of Ron MacLeod was also featured on A River Never Sleeps and is linked here. And Epic Fail the paper (in pdf format) written by Ron MacLeod and Al Wood is linked here.