Salmon Fishery: Another Ecosystem on its Last Gasp

In the 80s the Atlantic cod fishery faced a moratorium because the cod stocks had all but disappeared. Some fishermen say that they were telling the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that the fish were getting smaller and fewer. They say the department didn’t listen. Others say that the fishermen were as complicit as the fisheries department because they continued to fish the stocks to near extinction. It’s obvious, if nothing else, that there were several guilty parties and that the fish disappeared.

BC is yet again facing the same thing with the salmon stocks. A predicted high number of returning salmon failed to appear this year. The Fisheries estimated that there would be 11,000,000 but less than 2,000,000 have appeared. They are being accused of having bad science yet again and really, that’s part of it. The other part is setting perhaps too high of quotas and not factoring in possible problems.

Where have the salmon gone? No one is sure but we’re looking at ocean temperatures being alarmingly high from a degree to five degrees warmer and as the scientists have said, this isn’t a percentage of a degree and it is significant. A two-degree difference in ocean temperatures can devastate not only sealife but affect everything from rainfall, snow-melt, tornadoes, hurricanes and lightning storms. Anyone notice the increase in ferocity of these things this year?

Only the most adamant head-in-the-sand attitude would try to say this is cyclical. Yes weather changes are normal to a degree but not to this level of extreme weather and not with the ocean warming this much. And no matter what someone argues, the fact is that the ocean has warmed and it’s devastating sealife. Perhaps there’s been overfishing in the US but I haven’t heard of that fight yet this year though it’s going to come up. And then there are the salmon farms and the danger of sea lice. We don’t know if the lice decimated the populations because they’re not here to see.

And the Native fisheries still have a right to fish when sport and other fishermen don’t. The fish for some sustenance though in this world almost all bands have members with jobs, near shopping centers where other food supplies are available. They fish for ritualistic means. They fish as part of their jobs, like other fishermen.

What’s at stake? The livelihoods of fishermen. The rituals of First Nations people. The salmon. If the salmon go, there will be no more fishermen. There will be no more rituals or traditions involving salmon. That is the bottom line and when less than two million salmon have returned and the future of their viability is uncertain, no one, and I mean no one should be fishing them.

We will run into again, the “appease me today, and we’ll worry about tomorrow tomorrow” sentiment. Yes, people will be angry, people will lose their jobs but is it better to keep a job for a few months and never have one again nor taste a salmon ever again? And of course if salmon disappear, it could affect other aspects of the ecosystem and the feeding cycle of other animals in the ocean and on land, such as bears.

There is a shortsightedness that is not only affecting our fisheries but still prevalent in other issues of the environment. It is as if a slumbering behemoth was prodded for thirty years and finally awoke and roared. The rampage or movement is about to begin but it will be at such a slow pace. The more I hear about our environment going crazy, the more I realize our time is running out faster than we can implement change, because that change is so small and incremental.

I fill with despair that in no other time in history, nor in such a short time, have humans destroyed so many things. We lost touch with our place on the land and have upset a balance that took millennia to set in place. It is ever changing and ever balancing and if anyone wonders at the fact that there are more scary flu epidemics (SARS, H1N1, etc.) and other diseases (HIV, Ebola) that are hitting larger populations, it’s not just because we travel more and the virii and bacteria travel farther. It’s also Mother Nature trying to reassert a measure of balance and she  will take drastic measures to do so.

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