Fisheries and Oceans are currently considering on a fishing ban for chinook and sockeye salmon on the North Coast. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

Fisheries and Oceans are currently considering on a fishing ban for chinook and sockeye salmon on the North Coast. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

Fishing Haida Gwaii: A salmon fisheries collapse is a terrifying thought

By Darrell Oike

Haawa for all the fish caught this week. Spring has sprung and a few anglers can be seen trolling in the inlet, waiting for their rod to spring and reel to sing and net to curl around a fat fresh spring. Spring signals change.

The herring begin their annual spawning ritual up and down the coast, the salmonberry buds greet the sun and the salmon fishing regulations are contemplated by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

While it is no secret that this year’s returns of North Coast chinook and sockeye are predicted to be low, it has yet to be seen how the stocks will be managed. Rumours of an all-out ban for all sport, commercial and First Nations fisheries have been spread. If chinook fisheries do proceed, there may be some changes to limits and open areas.

Between government, First Nations, the sport sector, and the commercial sector, it is hard to get everyone to agree. There are things that most everyone can agree on however — the salmon is of utmost importance culturally, economically and symbolically to all coastal peoples in B.C., and salmon numbers are trending downward.

Blame and causes for the declining wild salmon stocks are constantly being levied and theorized upon. The long list of potential factors includes: mismanagement by the federal and provincial governments, lack of funding for research, overfishing by the commercial fishermen, overfishing by commercial sport-fishing lodges, catch-and-release sport fishing, improved technology, offshore dragger and seiner bycatch, global warming, overpopulation, competition from giant Asian hatchery salmon populations, depleted herring stocks, killer whales, sea lions, hydroelectric projects, pollution, microplastics, industrial forestry, radioactive waste, the Alaskans, the giant warm-water “blob,” net-pen salmon farms, industrial farming, and pesticides.

Acknowledging that all of the above culprits are at least in some measure complicit is to realize that the problem is massive and multifaceted. To blame one or two things is narrow-minded. To look at the scale of the problem is terrifying.

Nobody wants to sacrifice their livelihood, their culture, their food source or their passion. For coastal First Nations and many others, salmon plays an integral role in identity. The annual run is about more than food. It is a communion of sorts that binds communities, unites with the ancestors, and cultivates a deep sense of oneness with the natural world.

Now, faced with the reality of dwindling populations and the threat of total collapse of some stocks, we are forced to contemplate making drastic changes in the way we treat salmon as a commodity or the possibility that stocks may collapse to the point where salmon fishing is no longer viable or permitted.

Living in such a salmon rich environment makes it easy to take a freezer full of salmon for granted. I find myself contemplating what I would sacrifice in order to avoid a collapse of stock. I find myself questioning if we will see a collapse on par with the Atlantic cod or the bluefin tuna. And I find myself wondering what I can do to help.

Fishing Haida Gwaii