The Salmon Crisis
Salmon is an essential piece of our culture in British Columbia. It feeds us and sustains livelihoods. But, like many parts of our province’s delicate ecosystem, some B.C. salmon species have fallen victim to the devastating impact of habitat destruction and climate change. As our air warms, so does our water. Warmer water makes it hard for species who thrive in the cold — like salmon — to survive. Global warming also melts snowpacks, contributing to spring flooding. This, in combination with hotter, drier summers, has meant lower than average flow in rivers and streams — further warming our waters. Temperatures above 18 degrees will begin to negatively impact salmon by altering behaviour, while 25 degrees and above can be deadly. On top of this, forest fires are impacting water quality and hurting freshwater salmon food while explosive pinniped numbers present a significant threat in the ocean.
While low runs are deeply concerning for the future of B.C. salmon, they also spell disaster for those who rely on salmon such as First Nation food, social and ceremonial fisheries, commercial harvesters and coastal communities. Low runs threaten food security as it creates a reliance on foreign sources of wild fish. Salmon also play key roles in the province’s ecosystems — feeding bears, wolves and other wildlife while providing ocean-derived nutrients to forests at the end of their life cycle.
A Misguided Approach
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has attempted to address the salmon crisis with a heavy focus on closing fisheries in the name of conservation. However, this approach distracts from what is truly required — habitat restoration and protection. The federal government’s failure to protect salmon habitat threatens the species and the coastal way of life. Pressure on wild salmon must be reduced by increasing hatchery fish for harvest in First Nation, sports and commercial fisheries.
A Salmon Harvester’s Perspective
B.C. salmon harvesters care deeply about the health and future of B.C. salmon. In January of 2021, 150 active commercial salmon harvesters and a coalition of their organizations came together to discuss the salmon crisis. Using their deep knowledge of salmon and salmon fisheries, harvesters spent two days drafting recommendations for the future of B.C. salmon. The result was The Future Of B.C. Commercial Salmon Fishing report — outlining a path forward for B.C. salmon in the spirit of reconciliation and co-existence with First Nations.