Tuesday, August 25, 2009

B.C.'s growing salmon crisis

There’s a growing salmon crisis in British Columbia, and you can be assured it’s going to be an election issue on the left coast this fall, or whenever the next campaign comes. The fishery is a critical industry to the province that crosses many levels: commercial fishing, tourism, First Nations. The ripples of the apparent collapse of the Fraser River sockeye run, which DFO is now projecting will number 1.7 million sockeye after earlier projecting 13 million, will be widespread.

Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh drew attention to the issue recently:

Ujjal Dosanjh, a Liberal MP whose riding lies near the north arm of the Fraser, said Thursday the situation is grave enough that it deserves to be the focus of an intergovernmental conference involving federal, state and provincial representatives.

The collapse of the Fraser run “is going to have an impact on the aboriginal community, the commercial fishery and potentially the ecosystem as well – and that's pretty significant,” said Mr. Dosanjh.

“Governments on both sides of the border [need] to come together to look at this situation and determine if there's anything we can do to ensure this doesn't continue.”
And a column by Stephen Hume in the Vancouver Sun today also draws attention to the issue:
Have we so degraded the Fraser that we are now in the early stages of an Atlantic cod scenario for British Columbia's iconic wild salmon? Is there something else going on in this enormous ecosystem that has implications for us humans who are perched atop the food chain, perhaps more precariously than we like to think?

I don’t claim to have the answers on what is a very complicated situation, and one that is fraught with sensitive and politically dicey questions (farmed vs. wild salmon, commercial fishers vs. sport fishers vs. First Nations treaty rights, and more).

But I do know that this is a very serious situation that isn’t getting the attention it deserves from either the provincial or federal governments. And I know how critical the salmon industry is to the province, and the ripples its collapse would have.

Sport fishing is critical to our tourism industry, with anglers from around the world spending big money to come into places like Campbell River to hook a big salmon. I know the commercial fishing industry is a major economic driver for the province, particularly small communities already hit hard by the softwood lumber dispute. These communities and families are struggling as it is. And I know the salmon fishery is a culturally vital way of life for many of our First Nations communities.

So I think Dosanjh’s call for a salmon summit is very important. The stakeholders need to all come to the table with the various levels of government, and particularly the scientists at DFO, to talk about just what the heck is going on here, and how we can all work together to safeguard the resource for our generation, and for future ones.

It’s past time that the profile of this issue was raised.

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