PSF in the News
Monday, 25 October 2010 16:18
Appeared in the October 13 online edition of the Vancouver Sun
By: Dr. Brian Riddell
In the last month we saw the "good news" story about the historic return of wild Pacific sockeye salmon to the Fraser River. October will bring more good news when millions of these sockeye return to the Adams River to spawn and create the next generation. Thousands of visitors will make a pilgrimage to Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park to witness this natural phenomenon as the river becomes choked with crimson red sockeye.
This historic sockeye run is providing a wonderful "teachable moment" that should restore hope in the face of what has been a growing sense of disillusion about the future for wild salmon in British Columbia. It could also usher in a much-needed "sea change" in our appreciation of wild salmon and our willingness to invest in a better understanding of this resource. Dr. David Suzuki rightly summarized the 2010 sockeye return as "a gift we can't afford to take for granted."
Consider that just one year ago we experienced a catastrophically low return of sockeye to the Fraser River, and this year the third largest recorded return. If nothing else, these past two years should be cause for humility about our understanding and management of wild salmon, concern about an uncertain future, and reflection on what can be done to protect these icons.
Our immediate response must be to investigate the causes of this extreme change. If we don't respond and simply monitor next year's return, then we are only watching salmon and not managing them. Fortunately, these extreme returns have allowed scientists to identify where environmental conditions could change sufficiently and affect essentially all Fraser sockeye populations simultaneously. Research at the Pacific Biological Station (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) suggests it's likely occurring right outside our doors in the Strait of Georgia. Evidence is also accumulating around the North Pacific that the ocean survival of wild salmon is determined very shortly after juvenile salmon enter coastal waters.
Unfortunately, the Strait of Georgia has been neglected for years. Who has not seen the decline of Chinook and coho salmon fishing during the past 20 years, or the loss of giant kelp, the decline of small "forage type" fishes (smelts, eulachon, sandlance, etc), or the explosion of seal populations? This ecosystem is critical to the survival and production of wild salmon.
Based on this knowledge, the "sea change" I referred to can begin if we dramatically increase public attention and scientific investment in the Strait of Georgia. Like up-stream migration of salmon, there are challenges to making this sea change a reality, but it can be done. We have the capability in our local universities, government agencies, and local communities to take on this challenge.
For example, government obviously cannot be depended on, as in years past, to underwrite major scientific endeavours like what is needed in the Strait of Georgia. The Pacific Salmon Foundation has developed a five-year, $10 million action plan that has the potential to significantly improve conditions for wild salmon in the Strait of Georgia but the larger "salmon community" of corporations, government, First Nations, commercial and recreational fishers, and tourism businesses, as well as local communities and volunteers, must come together to make this possible. Secondly, attitudes must be re-calibrated about the importance of investment in good ocean science and research. With the support of government, private donors and thousands of volunteers during the last 25 years, much has been done to understand and improve our rivers and streams, yet relatively little has been focused to the same ends in the ocean environment.
Finally, more time and energy must be invested in the volunteer organizations that do the hands-on work of wild salmon conservation and habitat restoration in British Columbia. The Pacific Salmon Foundation recognizes more than 300 organizations throughout the province, and as many as 35,000 volunteers working for wild salmon. A network of like-minded organizations exists around the Strait of Georgia and offers a ready and enthusiastic force, provided we muster resources. The experience of this foundation is that community groups are the most effective way to leverage investments, because on average they multiply every dollar received by several more.
This historic Fraser River sockeye run reminds us of the cultural, ecological and economic value of wild salmon in British Columbia. But I echo Dr. Suzuki's advice that they must not be taken for granted. Watching and waiting isn't management, ignoring issues won't resolve them, and not investing in science simply generates new costs down the road. Far better that we take these historic returns as an opportunity to band together for British Columbia's wild salmon and the Strait of Georgia. It is the only acceptable solution.
Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/opinion/op-ed/change+wild+Pacific+salmon/3665480/story.html#ixzz13Q4cWNRG