The federal policy in both the US and Canada is to extirpate steelhead entirely because they are a pain in the ass that get in the way of fish farming, electricity production, commercial fishing, logging development and other resource extraction industries.” - Yvon Chouinard, Founder, Patagonia
The essay 'State of the Steelhead' by Dylan Tomine is available for free here:
Will Disaster Follow Disater?
ADMINISTRATION of Canada’s fisheries currently does not satisfy the intent of the Canadian Constitution or of federal government legislation. Conservation and protection goals are not being met.
Why is that so?
What are the elements of the problem?
Are there any practical solutions?
This Paper is an attempt to identify elements of problems primarily as they pertain to Canada’s Pacific salmon fishery. Although practical solutions to inherent problems are difficult to find, some thoughts about a better road are offered.
Part I: Introduction
Part II: Identification
Part III: A winding trail
Part IV: Previous actions taken
Part V: What is wrong now?
Part VI: Towards a better future
Part VII: Step one
Part VIII: In taking the first step
Part IX: In conclusion
(the full pdf is attached at the end of the article)
PART I: INTRODUCTION
The Fathers of Confederation considered Atlantic fisheries to be a matter that only a federal government could effectively administer. This position was justified by the behaviour of marine species: they do not recognize boundaries created by humans. Accordingly, the thought was that only a centralized system could be capable of providing proper administration. Legislative power remains with the federal government with some management powers subsequently delegated to Provinces, particularly in the field of freshwater fisheries.
The first decade of the 1900’s saw the introduction and testing of the role of science and a concept of fisheries conservation and protection. Over the years, these roles were modified in order to adapt fisheries management to the impact of new fishing technologies and unfolding science-based information about salmon behavior. A succession of three strong Pacific Region Chief Supervisors and their Ottawa masters did well for six decades. Since then, the turnover of Regional leadership has been frequent and unproductive. Moreover, from the late 1980’s to the present, budget “adjustments” have decimated the capacity and capability of Pacific Region’s staff to properly conserve and protect fish, marine mammals and their habitats. Although many budget cuts have been relatively small, the cumulative impact has been high. A major budget cut (40% over five years) launched in 1995 devastated what little capacity and capability remained in Pacific Region. But still, the cutting went on and still continues in the current budget year (2012/13).
The consequence for the Department of Fisheries & Ocean’s (DFO) Pacific Region of the endless cutting and of destructive federal government policies? – a shell that may still have a faint heart-beat but no strength. In any case, there is a want of political support that would allow Pacific Region to fully exercise its obligation to speak for the salmon.
To repeat, this note about the salmon fishery is written primarily, but by no means exclusively, from a Pacific Region perspective.
PART II: IDENTIFICATION
What follows are issues that helped to shape the current federal government’s negative attitude about the place of salmon fisheries in the national economy.
1. Fisheries are the only renewable albeit highly variable, natural resource actively managed by the federal government. This uniqueness within the government’s administrative system explains much of what follows.
For example, since 1970 the collision of the federal government’s human resource development policy with fisheries management has been harmful to DFO. Trainees are transferred from outside the Department into relatively senior DFO positions where, in blissful ignorance, they administer without understanding the external fisheries consequences of their actions. Then, before their fisheries limitations are fully disclosed, they are replaced by a new crop of trainees.
A second and much more important aspect of this issue is the inability of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the Privy Council Office (PCO), Finance and Treasury Board staff to understand DFO’s needs (a double-edged doomsday sword when, as is too often the case, DFO senior officials also don’t understand). Basically, DFO is viewed as a cost centre by Treasury Board and by Finance. This view is curious, given that 70% or more of Canadian commercial fish products are sold overseas – earning new wealth for Canada.
2. Canadian fisheries administrative sectors are ruled by a central authority as if they were identical components of DFO when, in fact, there are substantial differences in Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific fisheries management needs. An example of the problems this view can create occurred in 1978. The Salmonid Enhancement Program (SEP) was to be a cost-recoverable program. A Royalty proposal was developed and put to the Operations Committee of Cabinet where it received support. However, at the 11th hour, the Atlantic Caucus intervened and had the proposal terminated because they feared that a precedent was being set that might reach into their domain.
If cost recovery had been approved, Pacific Region would not be so strapped today for want of financial and human resources needed for proper fisheries management. The SEP would have been in a position to meet its goal to rebuild depleted salmon populations, rather than merely offsetting some recent and current population losses.
Another example is the obvious bias at the Ottawa level of DFO that favours salmon farming over wild salmon fisheries. Senior officials in key government positions cannot seem to understand that well managed wild salmon fisheries and well managed salmon farming together can best contribute to federal and provincial governments’ economic and social goals.
3. Over the last 50 years, too many Ministers of Fisheries and Oceans have not stayed long enough to get a good grip on the portfolio. The social aspect of fisheries administration is complicated and vexing and perceived by some Ministers to be a threat to their political careers. As the late Right Honourable Romeo Leblanc, Fisheries Minister for seven years, put the matter, “DFO has an inescapable social component -- but always put the word economic ahead of social.”
4. Over the past five decades, only two Deputy Ministers (DM) had previous experience in the fisheries management sector before their appointment. The learning curve for DM’s is steep and many never achieve a passing grade. Don Tansley who came to DFO in the late 1970’s from the outside was an exception. He took the time to learn the business. In his first two years he travelled to every nook and cranny of Canada where fish, fishermen (of all stripes), processors, fishery officers, investigative biologists, scientists and Regional administrators served. He asked a lot of questions and paid heed to credible answers. As a consequence, for the balance of his term he was able to separate the important from the fluff, a process beyond many of his senior staff and his successors.
The uniqueness feature of the Fisheries Service mandate often creates a weakness at the most senior bureaucratic level – that of the DM, an important advisor of the Minister of Fisheries & Oceans.
5. Programs unconnected to fisheries administration have been foisted on DFO, causing additional pressure on both budgets and staff. The Fishermen’s Indemnity Program (FIP), for example, was an insurance program originally intended to help low-income fishermen on the Atlantic Coast but was extended to the Pacific Coast for ‘balance’ reasons. Budget and staff were transferred (lost) from Pacific Region’s Conservation and Protection Branch to the FIP. Another example was Environment Minister Bouchard’s Green Plan which took away some Pacific Region technical staff and a budget in the order of $12 plus million a year for five years. In the early 1990’s another $12 million was transferred from Pacific Region to a program to test the concept of aboriginal commercial fishing linked to traditional food-social-ceremonial fishing.
Another damaging imposition was the transfer of the Canadian Coast Guard Service (CCGS) from MOT to DFO in1995. DFO’s struggle against such a transfer was active in the period 1956/62 and at several times since – DFO’s argument being that the fisheries program objectives and priorities were so different as to be incompatible with those of CCGS. Without resolving the obvious incompatibility, an under-staffed and under-budgeted CCGS was transferred to DFO. The impact on a grossly underfunded and under-staffed Pacific Region has been dramatic: Pacific Region no longer has a viable offshore marine fisheries protection service. As feared by those who opposed the CCGS transfer to DFO, CCGS soon swallowed Pacific Region’s Marine Service – craft, vessels and budget. Government efficiencies were achieved but at an enormous cost to fisheries administration effectiveness. CCGS staff have little or no training in fisheries protection. A crucial arm of marine fisheries protection is gone.
6. Recent Ministers of Fisheries and Oceans have been known to proudly point out that in fact, Pacific Region’s budget has increased in recent years. However, this so-called increase is not to the Fishery budget but to ancillary budgets such as the Coast Guard and Small Craft Harbours (a recent press release (2012) crowed about a $7.3 million budget increase for small craft harbours’ repairs but said nothing about the cut in Pacific Region’s fishery budget).
7. Currently, there is no voice, indeed, no credible centre of fisheries knowledge in Parliament or in the senior bureaucracy. There is no one at the highest level of government to speak for the salmon.
8. The present federal government appears to deem that fisheries are an expendable resource. All of the above noted elements play second fiddle to this reality.
PART III: A WINDING TRAIL
A government that is prepared to risk fisheries resources when promoting economic development obviously views fisheries conservation and habitat protection as negative factors. The government’s response to “Who speaks for the salmon?” is silence.
Since the dismemberment of Pacific Region’s Conservation and Protection Branch in 1992/93 and the Investigative Biologists of the Resource Development Branch five years later, there is no one to speak for the salmon. Those who fish, process fish, service fishermen, speak only for more fish for their interest group – this attitude characterizes common property fisheries. It is as if the despoiling of Canada’s Atlantic herring reduction fishery in record time in the 1970’s did not happen. Or, the wipe-out of the huge Atlantic cod stocks never occurred. Or, the over-cropping of whales on the B.C. Coast after WWII was a mirage. Or, the loss of many B.C. salmon populations is a myth. If the lessons from such disasters will not be learned, what hope for remaining stocks of Pacific salmon?
Indeed, what hope for Arctic marine stocks, hovering on the verge of exploitation as soon as melting of the ice fields permits? Little hope, if any. Although a new Arctic fishery could create an opportunity to introduce and test rational management systems, that is unlikely to happen. Ears that only hear words about stock abundances, words like – fabulous, massive, humungous, too big to fail - have no ear for words like conservation, protection, renewal. The likelihood of a government conversion to conserve and protect, doesn’t seem to be on the horizon. If not, it can be anticipated that rape of Canada’s Arctic seas will become the next great disaster.
As to the proposed pipeline construction in B.C., conservation and protection of fish and their habitats has come to the forefront of public interest. The federal government’s actions to push hard on facilitating pipeline approval and construction with little regard for good husbandry of living natural resources has had at least two significant unintended consequences:
-weakening the Fisheries Act without a full review gave the public a strong clue about the federal government’s priorities - fisheries and habitat conservation and protection are far enough down on the list as to be inconsequential;
-the public’s waning trust has become a major factor in the pipeline equation as the gutting of DFO’s capacity and capability to conduct a major or even a minor research program to evaluate risk and to recommend amelioration strategies has become public knowledge.
The conservation ethic is under attack by government policy that pursues industrial development with little concern for other vital national interests. The conservation ethic is in desperate need of a champion in Parliament – but there is only silence.
PART IV: PREVIOUS ACTIONS TAKEN
During the long decades of the 1920’s into the 1960’s when the Fraser and Skeena sockeye stocks were at a low ebb and rebuilding, a vigorous commercial fish processing industry survived on the salmon and herring stocks of the North Coast, Haida Gwai, the Central Coast (once known as the ‘fish-basket” before mutating into the “Great Bear Rain Forest”), the Westcoast of Vancouver Island, Johnstone Strait area, the Gulf of Georgia and the salmon stocks of the Lower Fraser Valley. Today, the commercial processing industry is a mere remnant of what it once was but, small as it is, its survival is at risk if Fraser and Skeena River sockeye abundance declines – the stocks of minor coastal streams are now too diminished to offset the impact of Fraser and Skeena sockeye declines.
1. Since the Davis Salmon Licence Plan was introduced in 1969, the number of commercial fishing vessels has been very substantially reduced by licence restrictions implemented in the 1970s and 1990s, a series of licence buybacks, and by licence stacking (see 2 below). These actions not only reduced the size but also altered the mix of the salmon fishing fleet and their overall operating costs. On the other hand, these actions enormously increased the value of vessel salmon licences. Unfortunately, the rapid escalation in fishing technology has resulted in a much reduced fleet having substantially greater catching power than any previous fleet ever had. Consequently, there are still too many licensed fishing vessels. For example, if the Nass and Skeena areas were closed to salmon fishing for extended periods, potential fisheries in the Central Coast or Haida Gwaii could not support any significant portion of the 638 gillnetters and 108 purse seiners licensed to fish in those management areas. The only credible management option would be to severely restrict fishing time, or, increase the size and number of sanctuaries, or, more likely, totally close all Central Coast and Haida Gwaii salmon fisheries.
2. Recently, ITQs (Individual Transferrable Quotas) for salmon seine fisheries have been tested in the Skeena sockeye salmon fishery. This system controls overall catch, eliminates competitive fishing effort and competitive investment in gear, and, leads to licence stacking (two or more vessel licences combined on one fishing vessel to increase the catch quota allocation) and other arrangements to reduce the number of vessels fishing and thereby reduce fishing costs (the high price of fuel has become a major cost factor).
Mandatory catch reporting systems were implemented as a condition of a vessel salmon ITQ licence. Fishermen must report: start, ending and pause of fishing; cancelled trips; daily catch with details on fishing area, species etc. Seine, gillnet and troll fishermen must also off-load their catch at designated sites for monitoring. This helps to provide vital catch and effort information for fisheries management. Failure to report can result in fishery closures or reduced fishing times and areas. As these requirements are conditions of holding a vessel licence there is a strong incentive to meet them.
3. Although some recent changes (over the last 10-15 years) have helped to address some of the perverse and negative incentives in the fisheries, there is still a very long way to go.
PART V: WHAT IS WRONG NOW?
Some problems that plague management of salmon resources:
1. Salmon fisheries are managed as “common properties" randomly shared by licence holders. This means that:
a) the fisherman’s major incentive is to compete to harvest as many fish as possible, as fast as possible before others catch them. Other incentives are to lie, cheat and do what can be done to encourage fishery openings, prevent or delay fishery closures or the enlarging of sanctuary areas. In short, incentives are weighted to over-harvesting the resource.
b) over-harvest occurs unless DFO is able to push back with management certainty based on reliable in-season catch and escapement data and effective enforcement. Both of these factors are dependent on regional budgets. However, budgets have shrunk so much that they can no longer support field activities to gather the requisite data or properly enforce regulations, thereby increasing the probability that salmon populations will be over-harvested.
2. Many salmon fisheries intercept a number of stocks, each of which may have a different and variable production rate (sustainable harvest rate), timing and migration route. Some stocks can sustain higher harvest rates than others. But, when fished together they must be fished at levels low enough to protect weak stocks. In such a mixed stock fishery, unless the more productive stocks can be harvested selectively, a portion of the potential harvest will be foregone. Consequently, fishing interests have an incentive to write off weak or small stocks.
Salmon habitat is managed as “common property” by all the diverse groups and individuals who impact it. As the terrain in BC is mountainous, almost all development is in river and stream valleys. Approximately 4,600 populations of salmon use lakes, rivers and streams in BC for spawning and rearing. This estimate came from surveys conducted in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. Given a 22 year lapse since 1989/90 in collecting spawning ground data in all but a few streams, who knows what populations still remain and, in what state the remnants may be.
3. Almost all development is in or adjacent to salmon habitat. Almost all water use, waste disposal, forest harvesting, agriculture, transportation systems and other urban and industrial development impact salmon habitat. That means that:
a) protecting salmon habitat is perceived to be a cost (often very significant) for most industrial and domestic development;
b) protecting salmon habitat can be an impediment to local economic development. The Federal government’s response …? In order to facilitate economic development the federal government has amended the Fishery Act to weaken salmon habitat protection.
4. Commercial salmon fisheries are limited entry, which means that only those people with a valid commercial vessel licence can legally go fishing. This has made the licence a valuable asset, which often yields more certain income by renting it out at usurious rates than by fishing it. High rental rates put additional pressure on renters to cheat in order to increase their catch to achieve a profitable outcome.
5. Sport/Recreational salmon fisheries are open entry, only requiring a purchased licence. The only limitation is on the daily and weekly catch limits on fish retained. (This can and does lead to catch and release of fish that get damaged and become less likely to be viable spawners). In most fishery management areas there is also a seasonal maximum share allocated to the sport fishery. This management approach leads to high-grading of catch for size, which affects the average fecundity (number of eggs per spawning salmon) as well as damaging released fish to the extent that many will not be effective spawners.
6. First Nations fisheries are traditional food, social and ceremonial (FSC) with a mix in some areas of quasi-commercial fisheries that are limited by fishing time and/or overall catch. In some areas the FSC fisheries are under-utilized. However, as many First Nation fisheries are the last harvester before fish spawn, the number of fish to meet their needs and conservation needs often falls short because of previous over-harvesting by downstream or marine fisheries. Also, FSC fisheries on the wild stocks in their territory are being blocked by the Treaty Process, leaving no incentive to protect and rebuild salmon resources. For example, the people in Kitasoo on the Central Coast of B.C. couldn’t sustain either commercial or FSC fisheries on the salmon stocks in their territory because commercial fishery openings brought in too much competitive catching power. They had no incentive to protect, restore or enhance local salmon stocks. To address their needs the band invested in salmon farming, which has resulted in significant employment and economic benefits for the community. Also, they operate a small enhancement project on the salmon stock that populates a stream that runs through the community. This activity provides a local source of fish for their FSC.
7. Commercial, sport and First Nations fishing interests have no incentive to protect, restore and enhance salmon stocks because any gains made would be shared with all other interests while a few responsible people bear the costs. They adopt the attitude that "government will pay" if such actions are necessary.
8. Many communities have little incentive to protect the salmon resources and their habitats. They get few if any benefits from those resources and have no stake in local decision-making or resource management. Additionally, Government actions to protect fish habitat are frequently perceived to make other development (residential, industrial, hydroelectric, forestry, etc.) in the area more expensive and delay or block it altogether.
9. Managing and protecting salmon resources are very expensive for government and in some cases costs attributable to conservation and protection of some salmon stocks may exceed the value of annual harvests (but not the cumulated value over endless salmon cycles). Government has little incentive to invest in improving salmon management or habitat protection, and, under severe budget restraint DFO has adopted a “wait for natural rebuilding” approach. While that approach may “save” money in the current budget, it contributes absolutely nothing to stock rebuilding or to the generation of information needed to understand what the limitations or opportunities may be.
10. Commercial salmon vessel licence holders don't pay a significant share of the DFO costs like licence holders for other species such as halibut, black cod and hake do. Since benefits from these fisheries accrue directly to the halibut, black cod and hake licence holders, there is an incentive to participate in what might loosely be termed a shared cost partnership with DFO. On the other hand, any action salmon vessel licence holders might take to contribute to the cost of improving salmon management and salmon enhancement would, under present arrangements, cost them money without assuring a defined share of the benefits. They have no incentive to get involved.
Current salmon resource management incentives are negative, perverse and overwhelmingly counter-productive.
PART VI: TOWARDS A BETTER FUTURE
The rest of this Paper is about measures that set protective boundaries for human interaction with salmon.
The primary goal is to save wild salmon by Speaking for the Salmon.
To save the salmon it will be necessary to:- save healthy fish habitats from harm and restore damaged habitats where possible;
-collect, analyze and apply conservation and protection data;
- protect fish health;
-manage harvest fisheries to ensure that escapement goals are met.(1)
Also, it is necessary to:
- identify obstructions that stand in the way;
- expect no willing help from the authorized guardians of renewable fisheries resources;
- look to the public of B.C. for support;
-promote exploration for new concepts of ‘fisheries management’.
So … if the federal government’s current policies are skewed by questionable assumptions about the future as well as by perverse new habitat protection policies; and, if DFO continues to be rendered inept by Canadian government shackles … what then? Let the salmon fisheries die? Or, despite the odds, endeavour to protect, preserve and enhance their role in our society?
Salmon have for long been an icon in British Columbia, and, for at least four generations they have been a generator of wealth that gave birth to Coastal communities and nourished many aboriginal communities. As a noted Naturalist, the late Roderick Haig-Brown put the matter, healthy salmon equates with clean water which equates with a healthy society. In January 1971 he also said that Pacific salmon are among the world’s last great natural abundances; therefore, it behooves us to give wise thought to conserving them. He highlighted an important value that has been and continues to be ignored. Without a high standard of husbandry to inspire and guide us, there is little or no chance of succeeding.
There is need to develop and test new administrative methods for managing Pacific salmon fisheries and their habitats. For example, it is time to consider changing salmon and habitat management to make the incentives complement conservation and protection instead of fighting them. Unfortunately, this runs head-long into the federal government’s current priority of full speed ahead on economic development and damn the environment.
The challenge is clear:
If the old system doesn’t work, then it is time for a new system to be introduced. A new way of doing business. A new way of transforming Nature’s bounty into human benefits. A new way of creating wealth without destroying Nature’s gifts. Can we do it? Possibly … if we can set aside our ‘dog in the manger’ attitudes and learn to work together in harmony for the benefit of all and, most particularly, of the salmon. In the end, what benefits the salmon will benefit humans.
At the very least, a new way of doing business deserves a try … a new way of doing business that, above all else, is both effective and cost efficient.
In the spirit of hope, develop new concepts of fisheries management based on respect for the salmon, their habitats, and, those who use and depend on them. For fairness alone, local communities should be included in the fisheries resource management equation. Moreover, experience has shown that for practical reasons, local communities must be included if salmon conservation and protection goals are to be fully achieved.
First, change the federal and provincial governments’ policies in respect of habitat protection – there can be no healthy wild salmon stocks without productive habitats.
Second, come up with a system of management founded on positive, rather than negative incentives.
PART VII: STEP ONE
Since 1910 at least, on the Pacific Coast there have been numerous interventions by the federal government dealing with the governance of the salmon fisheries: Royal Commissions, Boards of Enquiry, Public Inquiries, Public Reviews, directed Studies. Like similar interventions in the Atlantic fisheries, the outcome has been much the same: situations eventually got worse. They got worse not because of the interventions per se but because the government of the day either cherry-picked the recommendations, misinterpreted them, subverted them or ignored them. Countless appearances before Parliamentary Committees and submissions by Fisheries Officials, the Native Brotherhood, the commercial and recreational industries, by Unions, by recreational fishermen, have received the same treatment – bless them and then ignore them in the hope that Time may resolve problems or conditions may change and the problems will disappear.
The reference to 1910 is in regard to recommendations for fleet control by the Babcock Commission. A primary recommendation was to limit the number of fish boats a Cannery could own (at that period, mostly Columbia river sail/row boats used in the gillnet fishery). The outcome: In Rivers & Smith Inlets, for example, the number of small canneries exploded and the fishing fleet almost doubled in number……and so it goes.
Another example, the Davis licence plan bought fishing boats to reduce the size of the fleet - a program that over time cost the taxpayers almost 3/4's of a billion dollars. The outcome: catching efficiency escalated as fishermen took advantage of new electronic aids, less competition and so forth. Today's tiny seine fleet has more catching power than when Davis launched his plan. Ironically, from a conservation perspective a better effect could have been achieved if gear limitations (reduce net length and depth, limit troll gear) had been applied - at no cost to the taxpayer and with huge gains for conservation. But, that was not an economist’s view of how the world should function.
It is clear that a different strategy for saving the salmon is needed. The public of British Columbia have the power to save the salmon. The challenge is to get the public to exercise that power and use it to convince politicians that it is in the politician’s best interests to SPEAK FOR THE SALMON. And, to do so by enacting and applying measures that ensure the proper conservation and protection of salmon and their habitats.
The first step, then, is a British Columbia wide SPEAK FOR THE SALMON campaign to get people to bombard governments and politicians (federal, provincial, municipal) with the news that:
-Residents want healthy wild salmon stocks in their future because salmon are important to them;
- B.C’s salmon heritage is too important to put to undue risk;
-Failure to protect salmon habitats creates an undue risk for salmon survival.
Sustaining a blitz is essential if a good outcome is to follow. Utilizing social media such as websites, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Texting in all its manifestations, blogs, email and so forth provides Speak for the Salmon participants with relatively easy access to a rapid delivery system. Hand written letters still have impact if the volume is high. Articles/op-eds in newspapers and video stories on TV are time consuming but can be very effective. Community meetings to promote community action can be effective. Calling on elected politicians to speak to community groups is another good avenue even though it may be a difficult one for some politicians to handle …. but, that is the nature of accountability.
Citizens need to become SALMON SPEAKERS
If a successful blitz causes politicians to come around to accepting and honouring the conservation ethic, then human-made risks to salmon’s future can begin to be ameliorated. In any case, a good first step!
A step that can be made even better if followed by actions to reverse the weakening of habitat protection.
The success of this first step will clear the way to developing and implementing new ways of managing salmon harvest fisheries…..new ways founded on positive incentives that reflect a true conservation ethic.
PART VIII: IN TAKING THAT FIRST STEP
Human populations cycle, as do fish populations. One can only hope that the next human cycle is creative and productive, bringing benefits to humanity without bringing enduring harm to other life forms. A questionable outcome, however, given climate change, ocean acidification and the disruptions that likely will be endemic and eventually may set off panicky and irrational responses by governments that finally come to realize that the ‘no problem’ approach to climate change is taking nations in the wrong direction.
What a proposed Campaign is all about is accountability. Just who is accountable for conserving and protecting salmon and their habitats? We know what the Constitution and the Fisheries Act say. But, given the virtual abandonment of responsibility by federal governments going back to Prime Minister Mulroney’s time, the question WHO SPEAKS FOR THE SALMON? remains unanswered. Only the public of British Columbia can force a credible response from federal, provincial and municipal politicians.
A quick review:
The federal government has abandoned its responsibility by cutting budgets and field staff to the point of turning DFO’s Pacific Region into a hollow shell, bereft of capacity to properly perform vested conservation and protection duties. The recent watering down of protective provisions that were in the Fishery Act is further evidence of structured neglect.
At the federal level, Cabinet and MP’s are caught up in the web of the Prime Minister’s indifference to the issue of salmon survival. Scientists have been muzzled. Field capability has been emasculated. Staff dare not speak out. Indeed, no one in the federal government chain may speak out for the salmon without clearance from the PMO.
On the Provincial side, the B.C. government acts as if it has no legal authority to speak for the salmon and it has for long ignored its moral right to speak on behalf of this marvelous renewable resource that is important to the B.C. public. Important not only in economic terms but also, in terms of societal values, uniqueness and, most importantly, for the culture and livelihood of the First Nation component of B.C.’s population. The Province’s behaviour is strange given that, in the eyes of the public, salmon are an icon that represents a good quality of life.
Several actions taken recently by the federal government have opened the public’s eyes to the pall of indifference at that level to the fate of salmon habitat. Public trust in the federal government’s position on environmental protection is eroding and will continue to erode as the impacts of that indifference are revealed.
Unless the Government introduces policies that begin to rebuild depleted salmon populations and to provide effective husbandry of all Pacific salmon resources, the Prime Minister risks losing his critical support base in B.C. Federal MP’s have three years before facing an election. Plenty of time for the federal government to ACT, not talk.
The B.C. election in 2013 may be influenced if enough B.C. people let politicians know that they will support candidates who have a strong, positive Pacific salmon platform. Provincial MLA’s have only a few months to ACT, not talk. A relatively short period but still, enough time for the public to drive home the message “We want you to SPEAK FOR THE SALMON.”
There is an urgent need for a SPEAK FOR THE SALMON CAMPAIGN across the length and breadth of British Columbia. A campaign in which the public tell politicians that they want Pacific salmon and are willing to do what they can to save them.
A SPEAK FOR THE SALMON Campaign must be apolitical … in the sense of not favouring one Party over another. In other words, the public is saying they will only support candidates who support the conservation ethic as it applies to wild salmon.
The Campaign must not and will not cater to any special interest group. Some may want to use a Speak for the Salmon Campaign to promote their particular interest … such a diversion must not be allowed to happen as it would weaken the focus on the very basic, essential, first and foremost challenge of saving wild salmon.
The Aim is clear and singular: SPEAK FOR THE SALMON and restore Pacific salmon populations by applying good husbandry practices now.
Almost half a million B.C. children have participated or are in the school program “Salmonids in the Classroom” (an Optional Course) since it was launched over 32 years ago. Additionally, tens of thousands of adults have volunteered over the years as Streamkeepers: constructing and operating mini-hatcheries; restocking streams; cleaning streams and spawning grounds of harmful debris; protecting habitat from deleterious practices. Several Streamkeeper groups have been active for well over 30 years. Streamkeepers and school children’s participation in a SPEAK FOR THE SALMON Campaign could make an over-powering difference.
Part IX: IN CONCLUSION
The challenge is to launch a SPEAK FOR THE SALMON campaign to have the public speak loud and long for the salmon as a means of convincing politicians that it is in their interest to become salmon conservationists who SPEAK FOR THE SALMON.
A SPEAK FOR THE SALMON Campaign will be based on the dictum: healthy salmon equates with clean water which equates with a healthy society. There is need for:
1. A SPEAK FOR THE SALMON package that informs potential supporters about a B.C. wide media campaign to save healthy salmon populations and to restore populations that have been severely depleted.
2. Creating and staffing a website to carry the message and to receive feedback.
3. A core of young people supported by their elders to blitz federal, provincial and municipal politicians, telling them that they have a choice: properly conserve and protect salmon and their habitats, or, risk losing support.
4. A sustained, no-surrender blitz until there is concrete evidence of a federal course reversal and provincial initiatives to protect salmon habitats.
A successful SPEAK FOR THE SALMON Campaign could reach beyond fisheries and lead to constructive change in how we, as a society, accept accountability for how we exploit and how we utilize our most precious gift -- our natural resources.
Al Wood & Ron MacLeod, November 2012
(1) A most difficult challenge given the natural variability in salmon abundances. If not well done because of a lack of data, the credibility of management quickly dissipates.
Cutting a Deal With Attila
Confrontation, Capitulation and Resolution in Environmental Conflict
From J.A. Wainwright (ed). Every Grain of Sand: Canadian Perspectives on Ecology and the Environment. Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2004
We need the tonic of wilderness, to wade sometimes
in marshes where the bittern and the meadow hen lurk
and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering
sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl
builds her nest....We can never have enough of nature.
We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor,
vast and titanic features...We need to witness our own
limits transgressed and some life pasturing freely where
we never wander.
Henry David Thoreau
I can’t remember when I first became fascinated by water. But by the time I was in high school, our team bus's crossing a bridge would trigger a mocking chorus of: “I wonder if there are any fish in that river?” from my teammates and the cheerleaders. Many times before they’d heard me wonder out loud in so many words whenever we’d come upon a stream. On the trips to Dryden, a paper mill town of gray demeanour and sickly scented air (“the smell of money”, retorted the locals to any complaint) we would often admire the rapids of the Wabigoon River unaware that the foam had become a toxic brew of dioxins - mill effluent that, according to Lloyd Tataryn in his book Dying for a Living [put full information in Works Cited at end of essay], merely for eating the fish they caught, eventually condemned the aboriginal people of the White Dog Reserve to the neurological ravages of Minamata disease.
It was my father who used to take me fishing at Bug River Bridge, on a mosquito- infested evening comprising a bunch of men and women sitting around a river bank watching their bobbers and drowning minnows. There was nothing to do. I was soon bored, hungry, and covered in bites and wanted to go home. Besides, we almost never caught anything. Then one day some union organizers who came to town and stayed at our house wanted to go fishing. My father couldn’t go so they took me. We fished in a row boat parked under the Chukuni River Bridge and the fish, dozens of pickerel (walleyes) were biting. We came home with our limits. And I was hooked. Soon I was saving for a fishing rod and reel, and then, whenever I saved up 39 cents, bought a “Dardevil” spoon, and rode my bike or hitchhiked to the Forestry Bridge, where I often lost my lure on the third cast, and went home dreaming of the time when I would have a whole tacklebox full.
It was the beginning of a major reconnection with my dad, the passionate fisherman and now the maker of stainless steel spoons that I designed and then painted after he turned them out. When I started working for Ontario Central Airways as a teenager, we would fly out into the hinterland, and it was then that I realized that I lived in a land that had a lake or pond within virtually every single mile, a dry, ten-mile, wooded stretch of forest in any direction being an oddity. I remember experiencing as a palpable thrill the realization that the millions of fish in those lakes and the animals in the bush surrounding them, lived not because of man but in spite of him. It became a sign that all was well in that part of the earth. When I can find it, it still is.
More recently, I have come to understand that a person has to experience a thing of value before she or he can become concerned about its loss, and perhaps that is why people in Vancouver, even business people, are passionate about the environment and the threats to it, while people in Toronto, my birthplace, are not. You can live your whole life in Toronto without ever confronting any true wildness in nature. So in Toronto one thinks, ‘What’s the big deal?’ While in Vancouver I watch eagles wheeling in the sky as I write, and just last spring my English Setter pup went from carefree somnolence under my desk to berserk as I looked up to see a shimmering bear walk through my garden. Not that rural people, especially those living as wage slaves in Red Lake, Dryden or Fort St. John are palladins of the wilderness. If you are merely surviving in a one industry town, first, last and always you want to feed your family, and if you are functioning on a higher economic plane, the next priorities in North America are a house and a vehicle. If those goals are threatened by job loss, all bets are off. My father’s labour history taught me that. Instead, people have to equate their own survival with that of wildlife, wilderness and the environment in general. And they must do it before it is too late to do the right thing.
It takes a while to figure things out. A child likes its father to be good and kind but also strong and unambiguous. In our town, the type you fought your way into and your way out of, my friends’ fathers weren’t always saints but they were definitive and strong. When you asked a question, for better or for worse, you got a straight answer. And you were judged on how you behaved, in public. Alas, my dad didn’t fit into that mould. Once when walking with a buddy and my dad, I came across an aboriginal man lying in a mud puddle. I exclaimed derisively, hoping to amuse my companions: “Look at that drunken Indian!” To my six-year-old surprise, my father said:” Son don’t judge a man on where he is until you know his history, how he got there.” I remember my cheeks burning with shame at my father’s lack of manly condemnation. Now I wish I had thanked him for it. Since that lesson I try as long as possible to reserve my judgment even of the logger who clearcuts a forest or the capitalist who finances a mine polluting a major salmon stream, or the gillnetter who wipes out rarer more valuable fish such as steelhead in his frenzy to take for profit as many sockeye salmon as possible.
While at graduate school, I was introduced to fly fishing by a fellow student from Massachusetts. Small streams - Black Earth Creek, Mount Vernon Creek - only miles from Madison , Wisconsin, became my sanctuary, the only places I could go without feeling I should be studying. It was the birth of the age of environmental awareness. For the first time development, growth and progress were being challenged by the mainstream. In the intimacy of those creeks I learned the relationship not only between the fish and me, but like all hunters and gatherers, I came to understand other things as well: how the fish lies where it does in order to acquire the most food with the least effort during those times when it is safest to do so or, if the hatch of insects becomes sufficiently great, how in the safety of numbers, it tosses caution to the wind in favour of gorging itself on masses of protein.
It took me a whole year to start catching fish, for not only did I have to master the skill of casting a fly, a weightless lure, without creating a ruckus and spooking my quarry, but I also had to learn the currents of the river, and so what kinds of obstructions, stones, etc, create the habitat fish need; how to present a fly in a natural drift that would not betray the presence of a line; what fly should be presented at what time; what water clarity, speed, temperature, chemistry and depth promote the cycle of plants, then insects and fish; and how even the presence of predators, I among them, creates a balance of life. In learning to cast you become a participant, but with the other knowledge you become, in a minor local sense, an entomologist, a hydrologist, an ichthyologist, a botanist, eventually a deadly predator and, as you realize the interdependence of all life forms in the ecology of the stream, a conservationist and an environmentalist. When you reach that plateau - the consciousness of symbiosis - early in your development as a hunter and gatherer, it becomes self-evident that in order to survive you have to protect the creeks, rivers and streams of the earth as you would the veins and arteries of your body. So you become incredulous, then enraged that men and even some women would be willing to destroy those vital flowing bodies of water, to channelize them into flumes, to bury them in culverts and sewers.
Nova Scotia is, by North American standards, a very ancient place, and, because recent development has passed it by in relative terms, replete with wilderness. Living there in the early 1970s initially filled me with joy. But accompanying the thrill of exploring Atlantic salmon rivers open to all for angling was the realization that those rivers, naturally slightly acidic, had with the drift of deadly weather-borne acid rain from the industrial centres of the northeast US, become inhospitable to fish and were dying. Others were suffering from the effects of logging and farming that denuded banks and led to overheating and siltation of spawning beds. Then overfishing by anglers, a new revelation some found hard to believe, came to light as well, compounding the effects of deadly gauntlets of gillnets in the estuaries and those of inshore boats. The final stroke was the discovery of the feeding grounds of migrating salmon under the ice fields off Greenland and their wholesale slaughter by Danish and Faroe Islander boats.
The realization was sinking in that no place, regardless how remote, was safe from the ravages of civilization and a faceless technology that served the master of human greed without conscience. So on the east coast, the first environmentalists were angling organizations who because they were on the streams and engaged with their quarries rather than blithely hiking by as spectators, sounded the alarm. They were the first to discover the damage to streambeds, the empty spawning grounds and the absence of insects and baby fish on water that was now clear and “pristine” in the sense of becoming devoid of life. So long as there are predators, there are those who care desperately about their prey and will not settle for the survival of a token few. Angling organizations such as the Atlantic Salmon Federation led the battle against the despoilers.
Some members of the public argued, however, that anglers were merely self -interested killers who were selfish for trying to stop others from gainful employment in gillnetting, steel mills, logging and farming. It became a standoff. Rather than concern for wildlife and wilderness being an intellectual process, it became increasingly clear that at least in some measure, the sentiment and imagination of the public had to be captured. In a recent essay just before his death, poet Ted Hughes, whose background is English working class and not associated with fox hunting, an upper class blood sport, pointed out the curious fact that research has revealed that populations of foxes were most buoyant when foxhunting was most popular and declined nearly to extinction when foxhunting was out of favour. That phenomenon can be explained at least in part because farmers who reap the rewards of foxhunting protect foxes when hunting is in vogue and otherwise try to exterminate them as pests. Perhaps what we are really promoting in opposition to foxhunting rather than protection of the species, is Oscar Wilde’s characterization of it as “the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable.” [page number for Works Cited at end of essay]
At the same time that crisis was occurring on the waters of the east coast, in 1970 environmentalism was being reincarnated on the west coast of Canada. There it was two-pronged. The three-member “Don’t Make a Wave Committee” was angered by the Sierra Club, an old time environmental organization based in California that refused to protest nuclear arms testing in Amchitka, Alaska; and the many thousand member British Columbia Wildlife Federation, an organization of hunters and fishermen, formed a committee to address the precipitous decline in steelhead stocks. Steelhead, seagoing rainbow trout recently reclassified as salmon, are the rarest on the Pacific coast, the only species that doesn’t die upon spawning, and the one most revered by fresh water anglers. Greenpeace was spawned from “Don’t Make a Wave,” and The Steelhead Society of British Columbia from the BC Wildlife Federation.
In 1974 I arrived in Vancouver, and when after a month the clouds finally lifted, I began to recognize the extraordinary perch humankind had in this part of the world. Although the streams of Vancouver had been buried in culverts or reduced to storm sewers, on the north shore one could pass through the looking glass fifteen minutes from town and be on the Seymour River in almost total wilderness. The Seymour was spared by its municipal watershed designation from the developers’ plans. Black bears fed on berries in my Deep Cove backyard and cougars prowled the rooftops. Killer whales patrolled Indian Arm and can still be seen from the home overlooking Howe Sound I moved to in 1988. An hour away I occasionally encountered grizzly bears in the Squamish and Elaho River valleys that were, alas, quickly being stripmined by logging.
I quickly joined Greenpeace and the BC Wildlife Federation, but then I went to an SSBC annual general meeting in a suburban community hall and was thrilled by what I saw-- the whole spectrum, from backwoodsmen in caterpillar tractor caps before they became a fashion statement, through corduroy, denim and flannel, to the dark suits of politicians and the tweed and serge of businessmen and academics. And all were imbued with an unspoken common understanding and passion, one that I articulated only years later - that wild, unengineered rivers and wild steelhead, the symbol of Pacific salmon, are vitally important not only to those who pursue them for sport in order to reconnect the sacred hunter-prey relationship, even though those present were already releasing most of the fish they caught, but also as an index of how well the earth and so ultimately the human race is doing.
Greenpeace, in its objection to nuclear testing, factory pollution, clearcut logging, seal and whale hunting was grabbing most of the headlines and, I felt, doing good work. But looking back on the influences in my life, I realize now the intimate connection with rivers and fish, with scientifically based conservation positions, and with educating the public to the importance of wild steelhead, among a wide diversity of members who read like a demography of British Columbia, was closest to my heart.
In those days, slimy old fish, even the surpassingly beautiful steelhead, were not sexy; in fact, they were boring to the general public. We had our work cut out for us.
The preservation of rivers in their natural state faced a host of opposition:
first, logging interests wanted the giant trees that grew in the valley bottoms right to the banks of the streams. Those trees were not only protecting the banks from erosion, but also providing a forest canopy for insects and birds, and an arbour against overheating of small streams by the summer sun. Remarkably, there was no “green strip” of trees required by law to be left uncut, and even after the much maligned (by industry) Forest Practices Code was enacted, I came across great streamside cedars felled right into the Nahmint River, an emerald jewel on the west coast of Vancouver Island. And once those trees were gone, the loggers moved higher into the mountains, logging on steep slopes that even on non-fishbearing tributaries caused bank instability, erosion, and, ultimately, massive, rapid runoff.
The result was the transformation of meandering, slowly flowing creeks into straightened flumes carrying siltation that found its way down into the larger spawning tributaries, clogging the clean gravel and destabilizing the whole system. Now each new rainstorm exacerbated the situation. Even science colluded against conservation, for early inchoate research indicated that within streams denuded of trees on the bank, fry (baby salmon and steelhead who spend the longest time in fresh water) grew faster. That short term effect was due to the warmer water of those suddenly exposed, previously icy streams. More recent results indicate that the streams deteriorate over time, become dessicated, and, as a result, spawning is vastly reduced if not extinguished. Seasoned steelheaders knew that was the effect long before science caught up, but faced opposition at public meetings.
A further problem, as stated earlier, was that the issue of logging pitted citizens of local communities who saw any conservation measure as a threat to their jobs against conservationists who were characterized as outsiders or elitists. The situation became especially sensitive when a local chapter of the SSBC, for example, on Vancouver Island or the Queen Charlottes comprised both loggers and other professions. At one meeting a local chamber of commerce type chastised me for demanding protection of a river, saying we would have to share and that the valley would be returned to us after it had been clearcut. I responded that that would be like Attila the Hun’s riding into our town, announcing his intent to plunder and destroy, and our replying: “Well, will you settle for half?” Some things cannot be negotiated. Having recently visited Spain and Russia where they have no giant old growth trees but many historic monuments, I found that even those of czarist origin were lovingly preserved (and, after the devastation of the war, restored by the communists). It brought home the realization that although we do not have 1000-year-old, human-made monuments, we do have the trees. They belong to a world that is comforted to know they exist and, once they are gone, we will all be impoverished.
My campaigning for preservation of the very steep west side of the Squamish River containing the last three untouched spawning tributaries ( contrasted with the totally devastated east side where the main logging road runs) garnered me a spot on the blacklist when local loggers set up a road block in reaction to environmental protesters who were opposing the logging of the Elaho Valley, a tributary of the Squamish, with its very ancient trees.
As the Squamish - Whistler area evolves from employment by largely a single industry to a multifaceted, recreational and non-resource extraction economy, more citizens see old growth trees from the perspective we have been propounding. Namely that those trees as the capital of our resource are irreplaceable and, as economist Harold Innis argued, should not be squandered. In their stead we should be harvesting only second and third growth trees, and only when that harvest does no damage to the ecology of wildlife, wild fish and wild rivers. Logging companies are recognizing the change in public values - remarkably in the past three years two have actually received conservation awards from the Steelhead Society: West Fraser Timber for giving up, without compensation, logging rights to the Kitlope Valley, the largest intact temperate rainforest watershed on the west coast, and Macmillan Bloedel for giving up logging of old growth forest and halting clearcutting on steep slopes. In addition, the latter company has developed single-tree helicopter logging, undeniably in response to market pressures such as the boycott of lumber from clearcut old growth forest organized by Greenpeace. Although differences remain over logging the west side of the Squamish, the Habitat Restoration Corporation , a subsidiary of the Steelhead Society, has even partnered with the logging company International Forest Products to restore vital spawning tributaries.
A second great threat to wild fish and rivers is dams, though many new dams are not likely to be proposed until the water-hungry, western United States makes a move to promote diversion of BC rivers south. The BC government ceded the water rights of a vast area west of Prince George to the Aluminum Company of Canada over fifty years ago in order to promote the building of a smelter at Kemano. The diversion project took away over fifty percent of the flow of the Nechako River, a major tributary of the Fraser, the greatest remaining undammed salmon river on the west coast of North America.
It seems preposterous that in the mid-twentieth century the Carrier-Sekani aboriginal people returned from hunting to discover that the flooding had wiped out their traditional village and gravesites. They have been fighting for redress ever since. In the 1980s Alcan announced it was going to exploit the rest of its water licence in order to build another smelter which would destroy several rivers including the famed steelhead stream, the Bulkley River, and further reduce the Nechako to no more than thirteen percent of its original flow. The Carrier-Sekani drew a line in the sand, and were joined by a large coalition of residents and conservationists that rose in opposition to the project, though businesses and labour in Kitimat, the local company town, supported it. The Mulroney federal Conservative government, and then the BC Social Credit and New Democratic governments did likewise, with the federal cabinet passing an Order in Council exempting Alcan from a Federal Environmental Review of what former Pacific Coast Director General of Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Pat Chamut, called the greatest environmental threat to west coast fisheries of the 20th century.
When many people asked me why I (along with many other members of citizens’ groups and the fishermen’s union), representing the SSBC, continued to fight what was fait accompli, I replied that some battles are worth losing, and that I didn’t want to have to explain to my children when the Fraser was eventually depleted and the Nechako morbid how we could have let such a thing happen. In my presentation to the public hearing eventually agreed to, I argued that the value of a river could not be assessed by comparing its fisheries and recreational income to the income that would derive from hydroelectric power or some other industrial use; instead by using modern insurance underwriting criteria, we would have to consider the actual replacement cost.
That is, we must assess the cost of creating such a riverine ecosystem with its variegated insects and varieties of fish that have adapted over many centuries. We must factor in the aquatic plants and those ,including trees, that line the bank, together with the birds and animals that coexist in that environment. There are very few countries, much less corporations, that could afford such an undertaking over the many years required to bring it to fruition. In1994, at the eleventh hour , the public suddenly took a vital interest. Several very courageous DFO scientists blew the whistle on political skullduggery in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, choosing to go public and resign rather than go along with the handpicked “tame” replacement scientists who claimed that eighty-seven percent of a river could be diverted without harming the salmon runs. Vancouver Sun journalist Mark Hume probed the story also revealing that a prominent University of British Columbia scientist, formerly a fisheries champion, had taken a position on Alcan’s board of directors and was lobbying on its behalf. [footnote, or in Works Cited]
But finally the connection was made in the public mind that the so-called Kemano Completion Project was not just a northern local issue. The Fraser was going to be affected and its salmon runs that had recently almost been rendered extinct by a combination of bad management and low warm water would be severely threatened. About that time the president of the Bonneville Power Administration in Washington state revealed that it was spending over $ l50 million US per year to alleviate the effects of that project on salmon, with very little success. The connection was made by the SSBC and others that the Fraser River was the main artery of BC and as went the Fraser so did the fortunes of the province.
Belatedly, extremely popular talk show host Rafe Mair joined the fray and made it his main mission to sway public sentiment against the project. To everyone’s surprise the opposition BC Liberal Party (usually pro-business) came out against Kemano Completion. The NDP government, having already made public its apologistic report by a University of Victoria professor who argued that most of the damage had been done in the original diversion, had no choice but to cancel the project and try to cut a deal with Alcan.
The half-built tunnel in the mountain was abandoned. Alcan held the high legal ground, but was perceived to be wallowing in the mire of environmental and social immorality along with the federal government and DFO, though its president argued that corporations are by definition amoral, having a fiduciary duty only to their shareholders. An environmental victory under impossible odds had been ostensibly won. The devil remained in the details, however, and almost six years later no final resolution of water problems lingering from the original project has been reached. The original coalition still toils on, now out of the public eye.
The second great issue affecting rivers and even oceans that are increasingly recognized, despite their vastness, as fragile and vulnerable, was pollution from pulp mills. Technology became available in the late 1980s that revealed how incredibly lethal even a few parts per billion of dioxins and furans, byproducts of the delignification process using chlorine, were to fish. Live fish died very quickly and, more insidiously, the poisons accumulated in shellfish and other sedentary and residential species. The toxins quickly moved up the food chain to herons and raptors such as eagles, and, of course, eventually to people. A coalition of environmental groups, once again including the SSBC and the Fishermen’s and Allied Workers Union, was going to have a major press conference pointing out the amount of dioxins in paper milk cartons when, upon perusing recently released DFO studies and having a background in research methods, I noticed that limits of the toxic substances were many times above the legal limit in shellfish harvested in Howe Sound. The emphasis of the press conference was quickly changed to focus on local shellfish. Public reaction was very strong and, perhaps purely by coincidence, Howe Sound was closed to shell fishing the next day.
Terry Jacks, the pop singer, had without success been leading a renegade campaign against the pulp mill owners and DFO for lack of enforcement of pollution laws until European customers threatened a boycott of chlorine-bleached paper products. The Social Credit Environment Minister John Reynolds resigned from cabinet when Premier Vander Zalm reneged on a bill for zero tolerance in pulp mill effluent. The bill was, however, finally effected soon after by the new NDP government. What was especially interesting in that case was that even pulp mill workers were blowing the whistle on the company since their jobs were protected by union membership and their lives threatened by the common fate of dioxin poisoning. It became clear to affluent West Vancouver residents and pulp mill workers alike that a good income had no meaning if their environment , the fish in it, and eventually their children were to be exposed to deadly carcinogens. Fish were like the canaries in the coalmines - a harbinger of how well humans would do.
Because steelhead are the most primitive of the Pacific salmon, that is, the oldest most direct descendant of the ancient polar salmon that split into Atlantic and Pacific families, they have colonized virtually every coastal watershed and even many of those watersheds far inland with runs in the dozens to thousands entering a river somewhere everyday of the year. Most rivers experience multiple runs of fish that appear in every season. They are the fewest in number of any of the anadromous Oncorhynchus but the most resilient , not dying after spawning, with many making multiple returns to their natal rivers. All other anadromous Pacific salmon die after their spawning run, with the largest, chinook, numbering in the tens of thousands, coho in the hundreds of thousands and pinks, chums and the commercially most highly prized, sockeye, under ideal conditions, numbering into the millions. Originally, indigenous people took salmon using weirs, traps and dipnets in the rivers, assuring that only those fish needed would be retained.
When Europeans started to fish commercially they regarded native peoples as having an unfair advantage, and though natives were extremely selective, their methods were banned and they were given gillnets and spears instead. In addition, commerical gillnet fleets proliferated and like so many thousands of medieval doomsday machines wiped out any fish in their path. That was the fate even of those they did not target, especially steelhead and coho, which came to be worth their weight in gold to a burgeoning sport fishery on the ocean and in the rivers. Rather than managing for conservation of the rarest species, DFO officials defined their role as handmaidens of the powerful, commercial industry and chose to allow the decimation of steelhead stocks as well as coho mixed in with millions of sockeyes, chums and pinks.
The most perverse example of such waste occurred on the Skeena River where like so many other DFO projects, artificial spawning channels allowed the numbers of one strain of sockeye to skyrocket. This masked the actual fluctuating numbers of wild sockeye from many smaller systems and, with massive growth of the fleet, resulted in devastation to the point of extinction of many runs of sockeye and, even more tragically, of steelhead and coho. The response of the commercial fishing lobby including the fishermen’s union, ironically our ally on other issues, was to demand more hatcheries for artificial enhancement of all species including steelhead in order to compensate for the wild fish that were incidentally being wiped out.
Research, however, has supported the original contention of steelhead anglers that hatcheries are no replacement for wild fish. Wild fish have adapted to the peculiar characteristics of their watersheds over eons, are much more robust and genetically honed to survive. Hatchery fish will in the short term, reproduce well under pampered conditions but, unllike the product of genetic diversity and evolutionary adaptiveness, eventually become less and less robust and, as with monocultures on tree farms, increasingly vulnerable to disease. Dan Burns, president of the SSBC characterizes hatcheries as “chemotherapy” - sometimes necessary for survival in extreme conditions but not the way to plan long term good health; hence his creation of the Habitat Restoration Corporation to ensure that natural spawning would replenish wild stocks though over a much longer time span than hatcheries. In seven years, HRC projects have produced half a million wild adult salmon.
The Wild Steelhead Campaign of the SSBC highlighted the value of wild fish and brought the notion of wildness to the public using famed artists, films and even poetry readings by Ted Hughes. With the threats to salmon of foreign boats using fifty miles of driftnets to wipe out every species of fish as well as millions of birds and mammals, and the salmon war between the US and Canada raging, suddenly people started worrying about fish and relating them to the health of their rivers, their environments and, on the east and west coasts, their own lives.
In 1993, at a Vancouver roundtable leading up to the United Nations Conference on the High Seas, very little of note was accomplished until the representatives of the commercial industry left the room. For the first time I noted that a Greenpeace representative had made a presentation at a fisheries conservation meeting, promoting the “precautionary principle” of management. It was a clear sign that fisheries issues had gone mainstream, that fish, in addition to more visible, anthropomorphically friendly species such as whales and seals, had become sexy. I was thrilled. I buttonholed two of the participants whom I felt were among the more thoughtful individuals in the room, Dr. John Lien of Newfoundland and Chris Chavasse of Alaska, and we drafted a resolution that, as a blueprint for fishing operations, would go a long way toward reversing the destruction of the world’s fisheries. The resolution included the following:
First: no fishing technique shall be allowed where a more selective technique required to protect weak and/or threatened target or nontarget species exists. At present most fishing is done by gillnets that entangle and kill all species indiscriminately, or by using seine nets-- bags that corral fish and are tightened and hauled over a drum at high speed, killing or damaging all fish within. That could be avoided if the seine was tightened gradually with the fish brailed (lifted out by dip nets). The process would take much longer, but longer fishing times would be allowed without threatening fish stocks. More people would be employed, non-target fish returned unharmed, and monitoring would be much easier. Such methods are ideal for shallow ocean-straddling species.
Second: the exclusive use of estuarial traps and weirs for fish returning to their natal streams (salmon, for instance) would eliminate interception by foreign vessels and give all the fish to the country of origin-- - the one responsible for stewardship of spawning habitat. That principle would eliminate the need for international commissions, salmon wars, even costly boats, and allow strict monitoring and exact harvesting targets.
Finally: with ocean environment in such flux, those countries with the greatest stewardship responsibility, given their vast coastlines--Canada, Russia and the USA-- must establish an alliance to regulate and police their continental shelves for conservation of northern hemisphere deep-water species, regardless of arbitrary 200 mile limits.
In 1993 those suggestions were hooted at by the commercial interests. By 1999, after more than a hundred years of wasteful, imprudent fishing practices, many became de rigueur as David Anderson, a former secretary of the South Vancouver Island Chapter of the SSBC became Minister of Fisheries and, armed with scientific evidence that coho stocks were at alltime historic lows, implemented policies that would demand almost no mortality of threatened wild coho. Anticipating those measures, I remember calling the heads of the fishermen’s unions and the vessel, gillnet and seine boat owners for a meeting on a Victoria Day weekend. They were astounded when I predicted Anderson would allow them to fish only if there would be zero mortality of wild coho. They thought a 20% tolerance would be allowed. When I assured them they were wrong, they wanted to know, given that we had “won the battle” why the SSBC was talking to them.
I pointed out that we were not out to eliminate the commercial fishery, we were only trying to shape its activities so that it was not destructive of the common resource of wild fish, a resource many of them had advocated wiping out to allow gillnetters to operate unconstrained by concerns for other species. DFO was suddenly reborn as palladins of conservation, and most staff were thrilled. Many gillnetters went with the buyout offered, others adapted, some even started experimenting with traps and beach seines. Traps, fish wheels in rivers, and brailing by seine netters became increasingly common. With luck, we were entering a new age of doing business.
Now the new way of business had to be entrenched because some were still just holding their breath waiting for better times. Even worse, in order to settle land claims, rather than restricting future fishing to environmentally sound, selective fishing methods, DFO was giving out gill net licences and special fishing opportunities to aboriginal groups that could come back to haunt the fishery and undo all the progress that had been made. In my opinion, the combination of privileged opportunity for one group combined with the use of destructive, regressive methods was a recipe for future conflict between aboriginal people and non-aboriginal Canadians, especially environmentalists. It was a totally unnecessary conflict for many aboriginal groups were quick to embrace selective methods such as traps, weirs and fish wheels--methods from their own cultural history--when given the opportunity.
Combining experience from my personal development , values and background with concepts derived from my academic fields of social, environmental and forensic psychology, I developed a theory that I hoped would delineate the events that occur when a populace is faced with environmental threat. An early version was presented at the World Congress of the International Society for Research in Aggression in 1990 and a later was published In the volume Water Export: Should Canada’s Water Be For Sale? [put in Works Cited] in 1992. The model proposes to predict the conditions under which, for example, environmental pollution or destruction would be tolerated by society, as opposed to when opposition would be mobilized that would result in civil disobedience or even terrorism. On the other hand, the model allows for conditions under which a positive resolution would be reached.
There are three forces that effect action or change when a major social issue arises: public will, corporate will and political will. Very often corporate and political will have a special arrangement allowing pollution or other environmental depredation, despite laws to the contrary, in order to provide jobs for the populace, benefits to the government, and, sometimes, even to its individual members. As the threat mounts and is recognized as a health hazard, especially if unemployment rises as job losses occur due to technologial or corporate change, public concern in turn intensifies. Corporations with rising profits see new laws and even penalties as the cost of doing business. Community tolerance quickly declines as fear for survival of a segment of the population rises. As a condition of common fate comes to be recognized, community opposition in the absence of government action and the resultant loss of government credibility mounts until it culminates in civil disobedience and even acts of ecoterrorism (destruction of private property, even threat to lives).
In the case of dioxin pollution of Howe Sound, word on the grapevine had it that the government must enforce the Fisheries Act which forbids the dumping of a substance deleterious to fish in a body of water that they occupy. If it did not, given the mounting evidence of the contamination of shell and eventually fin fish and the high incidence of lung cancer among nonsmoking, downwind residents, sabotage,on the heels of protests that had already occurred against pulp mills, was imminent. The mills had permits allowing dumping, but studies had shown most mills in BC were out of compliance and those in Howe Sound were among the worst. At the last moment, the government brought in a special bill forcing mills, at great cost, to eliminate dioxins from their effluent.
In the case of Kemano Completion, the government had capitulated to the corporation in the original agreement, creating terrible health threats to the Carrier Sekani in the form of mercury contamination of the fish in the lake produced by the flooding and the destruction of their hunting lands. But it had also created many jobs and wealth, and that set up a standoff. When, however, the public learned that the second phase of the project had been exempted from the government’s own laws (a federal environmental review), and that the health threat was going to approach common fate proportions by endangering the Fraser, direct action was being mobilized. Again at the eleventh hour, the government acted, public and political will were joined, and civil disobedience was avoided.
Wiebo Ludwig was the head of an extended family that had moved to Grand Prairie, Alberta to live a communal lifestyle on an organic farm. According to Ludwig, the farm soon started experiencing health problems with its animals, crops and even human pregnancies which they attributed to toxic emissions from nearby sour gas wells. Complaints to the police and government agencies led not only to no action taken but to hostility from local citizenry who were reaping the benefits of the economic boom from local oil and gas extraction. Feeling extremely isolated and desperate to protect their family, Ludwig and his son -in -law went to the media, but to no avail. Suddenly a rash of vandalism, even bombings against sour gas well burners and equipment began to occur. Using an undercover officer, RCMP were able to implicate the two in the incidents and they were charged. The matter ended in tragedy when the farm, wary of harassment from locals was invaded one night by a gang of joyriding teenagers. Apparently frightened for the safety of people camping out on the lawn, someone on the farm fired a shot in the direction of the speeding vehicles and a teenaged girl was fatally wounded.
Figure 1 shows how the events escalated to violence and even aggression when the farm residents felt not only threatened, then thwarted in their protests, but finally isolated from all three elements of corporate, political and public will. Terrorism occurs when those threatened see no other recourse but have social support within their own group.
These environmental conflicts have been analyzed from the anthropocentric perspective that is based on values affecting the welfare of people. Where, however, a biocentric perspective is taken, values are held that give plants and animals an equal or even higher right to exist. Hence the battle that is going on in the Elaho Valley for the preservation of very ancient trees, for not only does an intense conflict ensue between those profiting from logging jobs and those demanding a halt to logging, but also the escalation to civil disobedience is extremely rapid as environmental depredation, fear for survival, and common fate are equated.
I recall one time as a teenager sitting around in a warehouse at Ontario Central Airways sharing a beer and downing the occasional mouthful of caviar from a sturgeon my friend, a bushpilot and another friend of mine, a Cree, had just brought into town. The bushpilot was teasing our aboriginal friend claiming that "the Indians were tearing down the walls of the houses the government had built for them to keep their fires going." Our Cree friend looked out at the mine headframe on the horizon, at the log boom in the bay, and gently replied: "It must be something we learned from the white man."
Perhaps a biocentric perspective on the environment is inevitable, even for those who believe that the highest value they can place on environmental health is human survival. Only if the elements of the earth, the air and water, renewed by sufficiently great reserves of wilderness, are functioning as they must on their own can human life achieve long term health and fulfilment. That much we already know.
Hume, Mark. Fish flounder in the face of Alcan's clout. Vancouver Sun, January, 8, 1991.
Tataryn, Lloyd. Dying for a Living: The politics of industrial death. Ottawa: Deneau and Greenberg, 1979.
Windsor, James. Water Export: Should Canada's Water Be For Sale? Cambridge Ontario, Canadian Water Resources Research Association, 1994.
Ehor Boyanowsky is a social psychologist who teaches in the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University. His areas of interest include human violence and aggression, and crimes against the environment, an area in which he has pioneered courses. He is also a member of the Institute of Fisheries Analysis at SFU, a member of the board of directors of the Wild Salmon Center of Portland Oregon, and of the Habitat Restoration Corporation and a past president of the Steelhead Society of British Columbia
Commercial fishermen have reported that they have discarded 574 steelhead so far this year in Skeena sockeye fisheries. However DFO estimates the steelhead harvest rate to be around 15% so far this year. If the average steelhead return is around 30,000 then the number of steelhead discards should be around 4,500. This is just more evidence that salmon and steelhead discards in commercial fisheries are under reported.
North Coast commercial salmon fishermen have discarded almost 22% of their total catch so far this year, including 1.2 million pounds of chum salmon, many coming from stocks DFO has described as being of “special conservation concern”. One-half of these chum discards came from areas in and around the Great Bear Rainforest.
Unlike most other BC fisheries there are no independent observers to confirm the accuracy of the discard information provided by fishermen. At least two DFO science papers and a recent J.O.Thomas Report have expressed concerns about fishermen "underhailing" their discards. Hence, the number of fish reported by DFO as having been discarded should be considered a "minimum" estimate.
In addition, the absence of independent observers means that fisheries are not monitored to ensure fishermen abide by their "Terms of Licence" and return the discarded salmon back into the water "with the least possible harm". There are no scientifically defensible estimates of the proportion of discarded chum that survive to spawn, but it is believed to be relatively low.
DFO requires that chums be discarded as a "conservation measure". Yet, DFO cannot provide scientifically defensible estimates of how many chum salmon are discarded, the proportion that survive to spawn, the consequences of killing so many salmon from depressed populations, or the associated ecological costs.
Why is this allowed to occur?
1. Chums are of no commercial value on the North Coast. In fact, they are a cost to fishermen. Discarding chums slows the fishing process. The objective is to discard the unwanted salmon as fast as possible rather doing all that can be done to ensure they survive the encounter.
2. The recreational sector has little interest in north and central coast chums and therefore places little value on them.
3. Most of the impacted chum stocks are located in wild and remote areas of BC like the Great Bear Rainforest, isolated from the majority of BC's population, and therefore "out of sight, out of mind".
In contrast, management of chum fisheries on the South Coast reflects the economic and social value people living on the south coast place in their salmon. Commercial fisheries targeting chum salmon are managed to a maximum 15% commercial harvest rate. There are significant and growing recreational fisheries for chums in both salt and fresh water. Eco-businesses have flourished taking people to gaze in wonder and awe at grizzly bears feasting on salmon. And watching chum spawn in local streams is a major event in many communities.
In order to save North Coast chum salmon DFO needs to be told that the value of these fish should be measured not just in dollars. That as British Columbians we value our wild places, our bears, our steams, and our forests. And what binds it all together is our salmon.
They are too important to be discarded.
SkeenaWild Conservation Trust
August 5, 2011
Keeper of Rivers
Ehor O. Boyanowsky holds a Ph.D. in Social Psychology and is an Associate Professor at Simon Fraser University. Positions held in the past include President, SFU Faculty Association and President, Confederation of Faculty of B.C. Ehor is interested in environmental protection, photography and travel. He also enjoys fly fishing and freelance writing.
This presentation outlines the aesthetic, spiritual, technical and physical recreational values of sport fishing. The focus is on the total angling experience and the pleasure that it brings to every angler, from the youngster with a bent pin to the sophisticated veteran.
…I heard this pool whisper a warning.
I tickled its leading edges with temptation.
I stroke its throat with a whisker.
I licked the moulded hollows
Of its collarbones
Where the depth, now underbank opposite,
Pulsed up from contained excitements-
Eerie how you know when it's coming!
So I felt it now, my blood
Prickling and thickening, altering
With an ushering-in of chills, a weird onset
As if mountains were pushing mountains higher
Behind me, to crowd over my shoulder-
Then the pool lifted a travelling bulge
And grabbed the tip of my heart-nerve,
From Milesian Encounter on the Sligachan by Ted Hughes
Angling is the oldest river recreation. Although its origins are shrouded in the mists of time, references to sportsfishing can be found on Egyptian temple walls, on ancient Greek tablets and in medieval Spanish and English texts. Lest one think that angling is one more obscure activity tantamount, say, to truffle gathering, butterfly collecting or telemark skiing, let me hasten to point out that any other single topic with the exception of mathematics.
This tradition has been generally marked from the publication in 1496 of The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle attributed to Dame Juliana Berners whose apology for the angler returning home fishless "because there be nought in the water" rings as true today…
…he hath his wholesome walk and merry at his ease, and a sweet air of the sweet savour of the mead flowers, that maketh him hungry. He heareth the melodious harmony of fowls, he seeth the young swans, terns, ducks, coots and many other fowls with their broods. Also, whoso will use the game of angling, he must rise early, which thing is profitable to a man in this wise, that is, to wit, most to the heal of his soul. For it shall cause him to be whole. Also to the increase of his goods, for it shall make him rich. Thus have I proved in my intent that the disport and game of angling is the very mean and cause that induceth a man into a merry spirit, which maketh a flowering age and a long.
I do not wish to pretend that to the angler, the actual catching of fish is of little value in itself. In fact the acknowledged father of angling, Izaak Walton, in his classic book, The Compleat Angler published in 1653 stated that he envied not the man who was richer, nor who caught more fish then Walton himself. This envy notwithstanding, a truly sporting angler, as he becomes increasingly successful, will proceed through a series of stages during which, paradoxically, he imposes greater handicaps and restrictions upon himself. That is, as a child or neophyte, the ultimate thrill is to connect with whatever species is available via whatever means: snagging, spearing, bait or artificial lure, that is at hand and condoned. Soon, however, one strives to catch as many fish as possible; then one focuses on increasingly more powerful, glamorous or wily species. Then, penultimately, upon the biggest. In my boyhood in Northern Ontario the progression went from northern redhorse suckers to northern pike to walleyes; from there to lake trout and finally, to muskellunge. I caught dozens of suckers on tiny doughball bait as soon as I started after them as a boy of eight. Beginning as a young man of sixteen, it took me almost three seasons of fruitless casting and trolling to hook my first tiger of the lily pads - a muskie of some six or eight pounds.
Once the angler has developed some feeling of efficiency in being able to catch many, although perhaps, never quite as many of one species as he wishes, he begins to long for a truly large fish. I remember the day it happened to me. In my third season of muskie fishing when each exceedingly rare encounter with a muskie of 4 to 8 pounds was still experienced as a primal thrill, my father, my brother-in-law and I went out on a blustery September day. Etched in my memory are the birches crowning the ridges in trembling fold and fragments of cloud scudding across the sky. WE were elated to discover that the muskellunge were on a feeding frenzy: we landed and released more than a dozen. Since then, the goal has been to capture a truly gigantic specimen, especially if it could be done on the fly. In British Columbia, a child may begin by snagging spawning suckers or even salmon in tiny creeks. While pursuing the spawners he may be alerted to trout feeding on salmon roe, dew worms and insects. Almost surely he will go on to pursue them, perhaps inadvertently putting a serious dent in a local population before, either through example, or through reading articles, catalogues and books, he becomes captivated by the magnificent array of tackle and lures extant in the fishing world. I using bait a child discovers how to become a deadly fish catcher. He finds out what is most effective and how to fish it in certain depths, currents and habitats, he learns a little how to think like a fish.
When he (or, less often, she) turns to artificial lures and flies, however, his universe expands. Not only is he a fish catcher who knows that as a bottom line live prawns, salmon roe, live stoneflies or grasshoppers will catch fish, but he comes to experience the thrill of creation in using his own imitations of these creatures rendered in metal and plastic and feathers. Then he becomes a scholar. He must look more closely to determine what life form occurs naturally on that specific stream: in what size, colour and shape, in its multitudinous possibilities, is the creature that the fish feeds on manifested in that environment. Once he begins to learn this, he explores more carefully each stream, turning over rocks, peering under cutbanks, experiencing a thrill when there are many caddis cases about, suppressing a chill when he finds fewer or none where previously they were plentiful.
As he becomes alarmed, he looks for explanations, hoping he won't find them: changes in water colour and clarity, specks of scummy foam, proliferations of algae, of silt where rocks once glowed under foot. Finding nothing else he suspects invisible chemical menaces. Are the stoneflies still there? They are the first to perish when water quality declines. His eyes scour the banks. Has a copse of trees been cut rendering the stream bottom glaringly naked to the sun where once a shady arbour protected? Has a hillside been denuded where the roots of trees previously stood guard against the savage runoff of the rainy season? Is the stream itself thin and desiccated where previously it ran full-fleshed over gravel and boulders? Does that suggest someone somewhere is siphoning off the lifeblood of the river? Do they have a right to do this? Who has permitted this thing?
As the angler works his way along the river, plumbing the depths with his lure or dropping his fly across the current, in that special time when everything is right, he enters into synchrony with his environment. He experiences the thrill of rhythm sounded out by the rising and dipping of birds, of rustling branches reaching over river banks of slowly shifting gravel and earth, and by the myriad life forms under the panoply of moving water. He, himself, is the product of a thousand year quest. To greater or lesser extent, he is many things in addition to the hunter after his quarry. He is, in the rod he uses deftly, an athlete. If he ahs built it himself, he is an artisan. If he has created the lure, or tied the flies, or communicated his experience to many others, he is an artist. If he has studied the stream to create these lures or flies, he is a naturalist. If he is thrilled by the wildness that remains, making certain his presence does nothing to diminish the place, he is an environmentalist. If he is outraged by any signs of despoilation he does see and takes any action at all, he begins to repay his debt to nature. He becomes the river's, and in a small but important way, his brother's and his son's keeper. Any one of these alone is worthy of a lifetime's pursuit.
If he is suddenly jolted out of his reverie by a bolt of silver flashing across the stream to the sound of his reel whirring uncontrollably, he becomes again the wide-eyed little boy who watched the trout engulf his dew worm. If it is a wild thing, a fish living and growing and procreating there, or a salmon or steelhead returning to its native stream, not at the sufferance of man,. But because this earth is still working fine on its own, the river is still pure enough, the ocean is still generous, and the man can still come here and connect with this powerful, wondrous creation of the forces governing the earth, he is a happy man indeed. Should he successfully subdue the fish, he may gaze upon its shimmering flanks in the pellucid shallows to be overcome with the same awe a father experiences when he first looks upon his newborn child. A confirmation that all is well.
To close, I would like to take you through four seasons of steelhead fishing. It is worthy of note that the first, "Winter Solstice," describes a place that may be unique. We take a trek up a river that comes closer to providing the wilderness experience than most one would find a thousand miles from the nearest city, and yet it is only 15 minutes from Vancouver's core. It is the Seymour. Such a place must be cherished and preserved not just for the great fish that return each year to spawn, though they are there and wonderful to fish for, but for the startling, other worldly quality one encounters as he enters its bower…
Seasons of the Steelhead
I. Winter Solstice
The rains of November have come and gone
The river swelled and surged and
We rose in the dark, stoked with coffee
and eggs and rashers of bacon
To head up, past the gate into the lost
world of the watershed.
Silence, but for the soft murmur of our
boots in the downy snow
And the rhythmic panting of the setters
The last pool before the canyon is
suffused with cathedral lighting.
Here, I watch the fly fluttering, gaudy
as its Davie St. namesake
Caressed by the current, engulfed by the
The sinking head wafts down to the
So we push on, higher, into the remote
Past rosehips glowing dimly like failing
Past a mighty salmon, transformed by
death into a mid winter gargoyle
To the island pool, resplendent in a
filigree cloak of hoar frost.
Once more the iridescent Hooker vanishes
into the riffle
A mailed fist bursts through the leaden
surface, brandishing a challenge.
The ratchet chatters, the rod arcs and
the river erupts again in the distance.
I stumble after, over icy stones, trying
its will, conceding line, winding hard
Down the run, past the cribbing, through
A miracle; it is suddenly before me.
An argentine phantom suspended in the
The fly glowing in its jaw - a
My friend twists out the barb.
Back into the river, pause, vanish.
The light is fading too fast; the
gatekeeper will be miffed.
We trudge downstream, reliving the
Looking forward to an open fire, a
warming brandy and a hot meal.
II. The Rites of Spring
A time for the Island, thrumming with
the exultation of rebirth.
The hillsides are drenched bloodred with
But too soon we are speeding through the
Averting our eyes, shamed by its
visage of the rain shadow.
The cavernous saloon resounds with the
clamour of subcultures.
Cowhands and Indians, a raucous gang of
And a number of the Thirteenth Tribe:
Wanderers who mark the season by the
river they're on.
Wintle, Winters, Lemire, Kambeitz and
Gentle, jovial, taciturn, sage and
arrogant by turn
Skilled devotees f the art of
Last night's puddles splinter under our
cleats as we approach.
Far out in the glide, colossal forms are
porpoising in the half light
Dawn cracks across the peaks
Igniting the yellow hills.
The hissing of lines caresses a silence
Shattered by an express train thundering
And Hamill ululating above the din.
His rod high he is fast to an underwater
Steaming downstream: an apposition of
The monster vaults clear far below him
I wind in and mince my way to shore
along the ball bearing bottom.
This river is unforgiving, and the
primal battle has begun.
Ehor O. Boyanowsky
Valleys of the Dammed:
The Cost of Radical Environmental Change Versus Conservation
Presentation to Hearing of Commission Examining Marketing of BC Hydro.
The Puntledge River, to the casual visitor, appears paradisiacal: a luminescent green bower shelters a crystal clear mountain stream that suggests steelhead, trout and chinook in every pool. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whereas the Puntledge once provided estuarial angling for tyee larger than Campbell River's, this world-renowned fishery has long vanished. Where a highly prized summerrun steelhead fishery was the pride of the local citizenry, fewer than a dozen fish now return, despite ideal spawning and rearing habitat upstream.
Years ago Lee Straight led an international group of anglers on a steelhead expedition to the Campbell River, perhaps our best known sporting river. In 1994, on the banks of the Varzina River in the Russian Arctic one of its members, Jack Hemingway, described to me how, when they got there, they found little more than an empty river bed. He never returned, but like hundreds of thousands of others, travels to the ends of the earth and spends tens of thousands of dollars each year to find good fishing even without contributing to the depletion of fish stocks.
The tyee of Campbell River have dramatically declined in size and number since, though the number of anglers rowing in the estuary has exploded. The wild summer steelheads of the Campbell have vanished. Hatchery stock originally from the nearby Tsitika temporarily provided exciting fishing and temporary euphoria, but like all artificial plants, after a few years went into a sleep decline.
Perhaps the greatest wilderness treasure of the lower mainland, if not all of British Columbia, is the Squamish River Valley. Ice clad massifs that soar to 8000 feet harbour mountain goats, grizzly bears and the world's largest gathering of bald eagles, less than an hour away from Vancouver and, amazingly, accessible to all, even the wheelchair confined. Returning to spawn in the watershed are some of the largest wild chinook, steelhead and coho to be found anywhere. But they too are in steep decline, even in the major nursery tributary, the Cheakamus.
On a hot, sunny day a few years ago, we took the Hurley Overpass back to Vancouver. We drove many miles through a dead world along the long lifeless sliver that is Carpenter Lake, a corpus of water, punctuated here and there by the skeletal remains of trees. Finally, at Gold Bridge we left the doomsday landscape and pulled into a pub. While our eyes adjusted to the gloom I noticed a photo over the bar of a cowboy in full regalia. He was gazing over a bucolic valley almost impossibly lush and green with a trout stream meandering through it and charming ranch houses surrounded by herds of cows and horses. "My God," I exclaimed. "How beautiful! Where's that? Somewhere in California?"
"You just drove through it," the bartender retorted laconically. How was the fishing then? Apparently wonderful. When had it happened? In the twenties? No, in the sixties. How could anyone have let it happen?
Progress? Benefits to BC?
The histories of these rivers have a common theme. A hydro dam was built for the "net benefit" of BC. Sometimes hatcheries, the alleged panacea of the first 75 years of the century - and part of our engineers' "edifice complex" - were put in - never successfully compensating for the loss of natural habitat or wild stocks. Hatchery stocks become increasingly less robust and cost the public more and more to produce less and less. In the most extreme case, the Bonneville Power Commission, according to Randall Hardie, is now spending $450 million a year, trying to restore fish stocks, in the Columbia River, to no avail. Amortize that over fifty years. Sport and commercial fisheries on the US Pacific coast are largely closed as they are in many parts of BC.
In some cases, gone forever are the great diversity of natural river valley with their wildlife, wilderness, farms, and biological and social mosaics. Gone forever are future options we haven't even thought of. All reduced to a single purpose.
Modern insurance underwriters base true value on replacement cost rather than alternate use. That must be the method of assessing all future radical changes in the environment. What would be the real cost of creating a river, developing myriad species of fish specifically adapted to that river over eons, along with the plants, trees, wildlife, and human life styles possible. No country much less corporation can afford many such undertakings. They contemplate them at their peril, for intact ecosystems are becoming increasingly shorter in supply. Energy is not.