B.C. VIEWS: Finding hope for B.C.’s salmon

Is enough being done to save the iconic species?

It was a tough year for B.C.’s iconic salmon.

But there’s reason to hope 2020 will be better.

Fraser River salmon, already struggling, took a major hit in June after a rock slide blocked their critical migration route just before they were about to head upstream.

The Big Bar slide, north of Lillooet, sparked an intensive effort to get the fish to their spawning grounds. Using helicopters and truck transport, the salmon were lifted from the water and moved farther upstream.

If there was urgency in the effort, it was because biologists had seen this before.

In 1914, railway construction along the Fraser generated a rock slide that made passage through Hell’s Gate north of Hope impossible. The result was dramatic. In 1913 the salmon run was estimated at 2.4 million. Four years later, when the cycle returned, the number had plummeted to fewer than 600,000.

Efforts over the next few years, including construction of fishways, helped mitigate the damage, but some species never recovered.

Scientists see the same potential at Big Bar. Last month the federal government earmarked up to $30 million for private-sector contractors to clear the debris, citing the possible “extinction” of some species if action wasn’t taken quickly.

“Without immediate environmental remediation,” a government department wrote in December, “many salmon stocks native to the upper Fraser River may become extinct.”

That urgency was echoed by the Pacific Salmon Foundation. Calling the situation a “national emergency,” the foundation told politicians, “Failure to fully restore salmon passage will have serious biological, economic and socio-cultural consequences that will have repercussions for years to come.”

The economic impact of the slide is already being felt. The threat to the salmon prompted the total closure of recreational fishing in the non-tidal portions of the Fraser, affecting the lucrative tourist trade in several B.C. communities.

The impact on indigenous communities is even greater. Following the 1913 slide, whole fisheries for some First Nations were lost. The fear is that the Big Bar slide could have the same effect.

Salmon held a special place in this part of the world long before Europeans colonized it. Not only was it a critical food source, salmon held a special spiritual significance because of its timely reappearance each year – “a gift.”

READ MORE: New viruses discovered in endangered wild Pacific salmon

That reverence remains. It’s something I can’t fully appreciate, but I do understand the significance of a healthy salmon stock to the whole intricate biological balance of B.C.’s coast and its waterways.

Salmon feed more than people. They sustain the orcas in the ocean, gulls and raptors inland, the bears on the river’s edge, and, when their life is done, their bodies nourish the land.

I was reminded of that as I ran along one of my local trails the other day. At my feet I found a salmon head and later a tail – nitrogen-rich gifts for the trees housing the bald eagles perched above me.

Work is being done in communities across B.C. to help salmon have a better future. This year federal and provincial governments committed more than $150 million for research and habitat restoration over the next five years.

This commitment will no doubt be cheered by the 35,000 volunteers who give up their Saturdays each year to wade into muck, plant trees and clear debris so young salmon have a fighting chance.

In Hope, for example, an abandoned gravel pit that’s been a tomb for young salmon will now have access to the Fraser and ultimately the Pacific.

Along my running trail, new spawning beds were created. Days after the narrow construction window closed I watched in fascination: The ripple that I thought were waves around a rock were in fact spawning salmon, stirring up gravel and literally laying the foundation for a new generation.

What a gift.

READ MORE: Escape of non-native salmon on B.C. coast puts farm phase-out plan in spotlight

Greg Knill is a columnist and former Black Press editor. Email him at greg.knill@blackpress.ca.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

CGL must revise impact assessment on Unist’ot’en Healing Center

Environmental Assessment Office not satisfied with report’s shortcomings

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs call for end of police patrols

Temporary closure of field office not enough to meet demands

Confusion surrounds terms of RCMP withdrawal from pipeline construction area

B.C. Deputy Commissioner clarifies terms of agreement following minister’s statements

Stop checks, searches of Wet’suwet’en pipeline opposers unlawful: Watchdog

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs file complaint

Wet’suwet’en pipeline supporters speak up

“Protesters get one side of the story and they stand up with their fists in the air.”

VIDEO: Minister says consider coronavirus outbreak when planning for spring break

Foreign Affairs minister points to rash of new cases appearing in places like Italy and Iran

B.C. man who pulled a gun on off-duty cop gets two years in prison

Encounter also lead police to a home where 100 guns and explosives were found

‘It’s like he just vanished’: Quesnel man still missing, last seen two months ago

WARNING: This story contains references to suicide and may not be appropriate for all audiences.

Protecting privacy key to stopping spread of COVID-19, B.C. health officials say

The number of coronavirus cases in B.C. remains at seven

COLUMN: Forestry no longer close to top of B.C.’s economy

Our reactions to a forestry downturn reflect the past, not the present

Caught on camera: Police release video of man who allegedly stole seaplane in Vancouver

Police say the man broke into the Harbour Air terminal and then got into one of the seaplanes in the harbour

51 health professionals send letter to Trudeau, Horgan panning northern B.C. pipeline

They point to studies about the health and climate change risks from pipeline

Fake meat and a latte? Starbucks adds Beyond Meat in Canada

The Seattle roaster has talked about introducing plant-based patties in the U.S., but has yet to do so

Most Read