B.C. VIEWS: Finding hope for B.C.’s salmon

Is enough being done to save the iconic species?

It was a tough year for B.C.’s iconic salmon.

But there’s reason to hope 2020 will be better.

Fraser River salmon, already struggling, took a major hit in June after a rock slide blocked their critical migration route just before they were about to head upstream.

The Big Bar slide, north of Lillooet, sparked an intensive effort to get the fish to their spawning grounds. Using helicopters and truck transport, the salmon were lifted from the water and moved farther upstream.

If there was urgency in the effort, it was because biologists had seen this before.

In 1914, railway construction along the Fraser generated a rock slide that made passage through Hell’s Gate north of Hope impossible. The result was dramatic. In 1913 the salmon run was estimated at 2.4 million. Four years later, when the cycle returned, the number had plummeted to fewer than 600,000.

Efforts over the next few years, including construction of fishways, helped mitigate the damage, but some species never recovered.

Scientists see the same potential at Big Bar. Last month the federal government earmarked up to $30 million for private-sector contractors to clear the debris, citing the possible “extinction” of some species if action wasn’t taken quickly.

“Without immediate environmental remediation,” a government department wrote in December, “many salmon stocks native to the upper Fraser River may become extinct.”

That urgency was echoed by the Pacific Salmon Foundation. Calling the situation a “national emergency,” the foundation told politicians, “Failure to fully restore salmon passage will have serious biological, economic and socio-cultural consequences that will have repercussions for years to come.”

The economic impact of the slide is already being felt. The threat to the salmon prompted the total closure of recreational fishing in the non-tidal portions of the Fraser, affecting the lucrative tourist trade in several B.C. communities.

The impact on indigenous communities is even greater. Following the 1913 slide, whole fisheries for some First Nations were lost. The fear is that the Big Bar slide could have the same effect.

Salmon held a special place in this part of the world long before Europeans colonized it. Not only was it a critical food source, salmon held a special spiritual significance because of its timely reappearance each year – “a gift.”

READ MORE: New viruses discovered in endangered wild Pacific salmon

That reverence remains. It’s something I can’t fully appreciate, but I do understand the significance of a healthy salmon stock to the whole intricate biological balance of B.C.’s coast and its waterways.

Salmon feed more than people. They sustain the orcas in the ocean, gulls and raptors inland, the bears on the river’s edge, and, when their life is done, their bodies nourish the land.

I was reminded of that as I ran along one of my local trails the other day. At my feet I found a salmon head and later a tail – nitrogen-rich gifts for the trees housing the bald eagles perched above me.

Work is being done in communities across B.C. to help salmon have a better future. This year federal and provincial governments committed more than $150 million for research and habitat restoration over the next five years.

This commitment will no doubt be cheered by the 35,000 volunteers who give up their Saturdays each year to wade into muck, plant trees and clear debris so young salmon have a fighting chance.

In Hope, for example, an abandoned gravel pit that’s been a tomb for young salmon will now have access to the Fraser and ultimately the Pacific.

Along my running trail, new spawning beds were created. Days after the narrow construction window closed I watched in fascination: The ripple that I thought were waves around a rock were in fact spawning salmon, stirring up gravel and literally laying the foundation for a new generation.

What a gift.

READ MORE: Escape of non-native salmon on B.C. coast puts farm phase-out plan in spotlight

Greg Knill is a columnist and former Black Press editor. Email him at greg.knill@blackpress.ca.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

VIDEO: Highway 1 to look like winter war zone until owners retrieve wrecked vehicles

Tow-truck driver says 30 vehicles still dot snowy landscape, including one rolled-over dairy truck

Suspected car thief bean-bagged by Abbotsford police for resisting arrest

‘It doesn’t break the skin usually, but it hurts so much you might as well be shot’

Mission’s Steelhead community wants second public hearing on proposed asphalt plant

Online petition against proposal has more than 2,200 signatures

Abbotsford bank ATM robbery thwarted by woman standing her ground

Police arrest alleged known robber running down South Fraser wearing balaclava

Teen accused in Abbotsford attack on 85-year-old convicted of firearms offence

Brandon Janveaux found in vehicle in Chilliwack with .22-calibre rifle down his pants

After cashing in on QB gambles, Chiefs and 49ers to clash in Super Bowl

KC beats Tennessee, San Francisco dispatches Green Bay to reach NFL title game

VIDEO: SPCA and RCMP remove several animals, including pig, at private animal rescue in Langley

Home at 5500 block of 216th Street has undergone multiple seizures over the past five years

How to beat Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year

Multiple factors can play a role in seasonal depression, says Fraser Health psychiatrist

B.C. VIEWS: Few clouds on Horgan’s horizon

Horgan’s biggest challenge in the remainder of his term will be to keep the economy humming along

Victoria family focuses on ‘letting go, enjoying time together’ after dad gets dementia

Walter Strauss has developed an interest in music and now takes line dancing classes

B.C. forest industry grasps for hope amid seven-month strike, shutdowns, changes

Some experts say this could be worse for forestry than the 2008 financial crisis

Northern B.C. RCMP investigating alleged sexual assault in downtown Smithers

One person was transported by ambulance to hospital following RCMP investigation at Sedaz

Most Read