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Thursday » December 20 » 2007

B.C. wild salmon in danger of extinction

Stephen Hume
Vancouver Sun


Thursday, December 20, 2007


Five years ago, a senior fisheries biologist in Galway, Ireland, warned what lay ahead for British Columbia's wild salmon: Infestations of sea lice around fish farms followed by a collapse of wild stocks wherever baby salmon migrated through concentrations of the parasites.

Dr. Greg Forde was not a radical environmentalist, as the aquaculture industry routinely characterizes critics. He worked for Ireland's western regional fisheries board, struggling to cope with a collapse of wild stocks in a sea lice-infestation that emerged after fish farms came to that coast.

More than stocks collapsed. The sport fishing industry, a major revenue producer there -- as in B.C. -- was rocked to its foundations as game fish dwindled.

"The awful thing is about lessons not learned," Forde told me back then. "It's all déjà vu. It's the most frustrating thing to hear what's happened here has now happened in B.C."

His colleague, Seamus Hartigan, in charge of managing the Galway River salmon fishery, echoed Forde's sentiments. "It happened in Norway for years and we didn't pay any attention," Hartigan said. "It's happened in Ireland and you [in B.C.] are not paying attention. Do you want to learn by other people's mistakes or do you want to learn by your own mistakes?

"Norway had some of the best rivers in the world for the production of massive salmon -- they are just gone," Hartigan said. "Why couldn't we learn from that? Why can't you learn from us? Is the B.C. government willing to make a place in the scheme of things for indigenous species?"

The five-year-old question is poignant considering the gloomy forecast for the fate of pink salmon on the province's mid-coast in a new study reported last week by Scott Simpson. It argues that if sea lice infestations associated with fish farms on migration routes continue, pink salmon stocks on the mid-coast can be expected to collapse into localized extinctions.

Sounds like a 2007 assessment in Ireland which warns that if prized sea trout stocks are not to be lost, "the elimination of sea lice on and in the vicinity of marine salmon farms must be a constant priority."

The B.C. study, published in the journal Science, adds to Scottish research which found sea lice from fish farms killed up to 50 per cent of migrating smolts and it strengthens the argument that sea lice propagated in net pens here kill baby pinks the same way.

A paper published last year in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management found that dying pink salmon smolts carried twice the load of blood-sucking sea lice as healthy fish.

The self-interested aquaculture industry dismisses this research as biased. The federal department of fisheries and oceans, mandated to protect wild stocks while promoting aquaculture, protests that the studies "overstate" risks. Our provincial government, paralyzed by ideology, ignores the problem even as its own legislature committee on sustainable aquaculture advises otherwise.

Let's be clear. If the extinctions forecast by this new study take place as predicted, it will be an ecological catastrophe for the mid-coast. Pink runs sustain bears, killer whales, eagles, seals, sea lions and trout. Their decaying bodies fertilize riparian forests and maintain the nutrient levels for aquatic plants, insects, amphibians and fish in rivers.

If the pinks go, expect the chum, coho and chinook to follow, perhaps sooner than you think. Then the bears. Then the fishing lodges.

Even as plans ramp up for industrial gravel removal from the lower Fraser, preliminary stock assessments for salmon returns in 2008 suggest a dismal year for dwindling runs already ravaged by neglect, mismanagement and loss of spawning and rearing habitat.

Eight of 14 sockeye runs to the Fraser watershed are forecast to reach less than target escapement and are declining, some rapidly. Out of 12 chinook runs to the Fraser or Georgia Strait, nine fall in this category. All four such coho runs are listed as "of concern."

So here's the question for readers: Will B.C. be a better place without wild salmon?

If you think not, you'd better get organized, act like citizens in a democracy and prepare to hold politically accountable those who dither, deny and do nothing despite the warnings.

[email protected]
 

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Thanks for this bit of information and like you say, you'd better get organized, act like citizens in a democracy. If we do not, the salmon will be gone forever! As I have been saying for years we need to get rid of all the little lobby groups fighting amongst them selves and create one powerful group with all the local first nations involved and fight this giant before the oil rigs and hydro dams are in place and the our presious resource is gone.

:cheers: Rick
 

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An idea has been floated around over this thread...

Here's the gist of it:

Maybe we should try and organize something amongst many of the individual groups in our sport. We might contact Mr. hume via email and see how he might feel about further exposure on the subject...

What do you guys think, a BCFR email to him, and to some of the organizations which have a stake in this?

I know, a lot of work, but if we make it a forum thread, where everyone can participate, perhaps a division of labour would arise.

Too optimistic of me...?

???


Frankly, the whole fish farm business is pretty cut and dry to me, regardless of the reasons for having them, they are bad for our fish. Let's try and do something. The farms are, in my opinion, one of the worst contributors to our problems with our stocks...

rib
 

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ribwart said:
An idea has been floated around over this thread...

Here's the gist of it:

Maybe we should try and organize something amongst many of the individual groups in our sport. We might contact Mr. hume via email and see how he might feel about further exposure on the subject...

What do you guys think, a BCFR email to him, and to some of the organizations which have a stake in this?

I know, a lot of work, but if we make it a forum thread, where everyone can participate, perhaps a division of labour would arise.

Too optimistic of me...?

???


Frankly, the whole fish farm business is pretty cut and dry to me, regardless of the reasons for having them, they are bad for our fish. Let's try and do something. The farms are, in my opinion, one of the worst contributors to our problems with our stocks...

rib
I think this is an excellent idea. It's time for everyone to put the pressure on and raise awareness on the subject. This thread sould be put in a highly visible spot and not get lost due to lack of attention. Local fish and game clubs should be involved and also the B.C. wildlife association. You can COUNT ME IN.
 

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I am all in favor of trying to establish a single, organized and consistent voice calling for the protection of wild salmon. I do not believe that current conflicts that exist among stakeholder groups, like commercial fishermen, FN harvesters, and sportfishers, can be resolved in time to save the salmon. We have to put our differences aside and act as a single interest group. (Incidentally, it is possible that by working together we will be able to resolve some problems of our own.) I remember when this idea was proposed on here a few years ago. Those conversations had an effect on me: my desire to find ways of building a single lobby that represents a wide range of stakeholder groups in the name of preserving wild salmon has led to my pursuing an MA in conflict management. I am eager to volunteer my skills and time to saving the fish.

Friends of Wild Salmon (FWS) is an organization built around a strong coalition of sportfishers, commercial harvesters, FN, business people, etc. In talking with them, I have learned that, while historical conflicts remain, they do not prevent effective cooperation. Furthermore, this organization receives broad public support; it is not seen as a fringe movement. It is focussed on the Skeena system, but there is no reason we couldn't organize something similar on the South Coast, or province-wide. Perhaps we could organize a regional chapter of FWS. I will ask them for information on coalition building around salmon today. You can find their website at: http://www.friendsofwildsalmon.ca/
 
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