Speak for the Salmon

Story by Mark Hume with Photography by Nick Didlick

He’s 88 and admits to failing health, but Ron MacLeod’s mind remains as sharp as a well-honed fish hook and his passion for protecting salmon is undiminished.

Proof of that lies in a brilliant paper he has just written, with long time work colleague, Al Wood, which he hopes will stir a public outcry against government.

This is an old warrior who is squaring up for one last fight. And politicians will ignore him at their peril.

His paper, Epic Fail, is posted on A River Never Sleeps.com in the Currents section. It chronicles the decline of Pacific salmon stocks and warns that a total collapse – on the scale of the Atlantic cod catastrophe – is in the making, unless things change.

Mr. MacLeod, a former director general of the department of Fisheries and Oceans, goes beyond doom saying. He lays out the history of failed government policies that have propelled us to this point, and offers solutions.

In his paper he urges the public to stop whinging about the way things are and to start organizing to force action by government. If we don’t put the heat on politicians, he says, salmon will go over an environmental cliff.

Jarring the political system isn’t going to be easy, he says, but it can be done.

“It’s going to take an emotional outburst from British Columbians,” said Mr. MacLeod. “And if we want change, now is the time . . . there will be a provincial election next year, and a federal election in three years. . .politicians are open to change if they feel they will lose enough votes.”

As a young boy Mr. MacLeod went on patrol with his father, then a fisheries officer in Tofino. He became a fisheries officer himself in 1956. By the time he retired from DFO, in 1984, he had risen through the ranks to become the director of the department’s overall operations in the Pacific region – and along with Mr. Wood he had launched SEP, the salmonid enhancement program, a community-based effort that over 30 years has  breathed life into hundreds of streams and mobilized thousands of volunteers.

Asked if he had ever expected to see salmon stocks fall to the low ebb they are at now, he replied: “Never, never, never.”

Mr. MacLeod remains optimistic, however, feeling the public can force Ottawa to reverse the budget cuts that gutted the department, to drop the legislative changes that weakened the Fisheries Act and to undo the structural changes that crippled DFO.

“Currently . . . there is no one at the highest level of government to speak for the salmon,” complains Mr. MacLeod. “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.”

Mr. MacLeod said since putting his paper into circulation (it is being passed person to person by email at this point) he has heard from a number of groups that want to support such a campaign.

“I know there are lots of people in B.C. who feel the way I do,” he said. “They might just rise up.”

Mr. MacLeod said he understands that people are frustrated by a political system that appears indifferent to their concerns, and that there are many other issues out there competing for their attention.

But he also knows that in B.C. there is a profound cultural attachment to salmon. And he is hoping that deep love for nature will translate into massive, determined action.

Asked why he is still fighting at 88, Mr. MacLeod laughs. “Fishermen think they hook the salmon, but in reality the salmon spirit hooks them, and it’s with them for life,” he says.

The Speak For The Salmon campaign didn’t have a website at the time of this writing, but Mr. MacLeod was hoping to soon.

“At this point it’s just a matter of getting organized, of aligning the ducks. . .and we are looking for heroes to move this thing forward,” says Mr. MacLeod, invites those who want to join a salmon revolution to contact him at: jrmacleod@telus.net