Sunday, 28 February 2016

Private Hatcheries?

An interesting think piece came my way this week from Eric Wickham. He notes that the number of salmon caught in every other jurisdiction on the Pacific coast vastly outnumbers our own. He goes on to say that the hatchery output of fry in these other jurisdictions also vastly outnumbers our own.

Wickham thinks that we should have Trudeau eliminate the law that only DFO can authorize hatcheries, and open it up so that others can start hatcheries – individuals, businesses, associations – increase our output numbers and bump our catch.

This is the graph that shows the catch by jurisdiction:


You will note the data is from the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission that Canada is part of. This is their website:, and the Commission is located in Vancouver.

And this is the hatchery output by nation, from the same source, 2014:

The big difference in hatcheries arises for a number of reasons. In BC, as DFO has authority, it has a budget ‘standard object’ for hatcheries – in the range of $20- to $25-Million. It is tossed into the Conservation and Protection budget, and problems arise.

In the budget process in Ottawa, DFO’s BC hatchery budget is considered a freebie – not a necessity – to bargain with while trading off east against west. BC is, until recently, the only province in Canada that has a sizeable hatchery system, although last year $4 Million was advanced in Atlantic Canada by then minister Gail Shea.

The reason for the low budget is because of the bargaining leading up to the Budget. It is also low because it is not considered on its own, but is rolled in with C&P – this came out of my discussion of Randy Nelson’s book Poachers, Polluters and Politics from Harbour Publishing – a good book, read it – and thus it loses budget to C&P as the process deals with both at the same time in the same budget.

As we all know, with DFO as gatekeeper, lots of on-the-ground projects don’t receive funding or fry, for various reasons, genetics, for example, being a sound reason. And we all know of netpen projects not being authorized, although it must be acknowledged that the pink volunteer streams from Nanaimo to Campbell River are a good source of fish for popular beach fisheries.

What happens in the States? Ah well, Wickham points out that: “Alaska caught 260 million salmon this year, while the numbers for British Columbia are less than 10 million. South of us, Washington State poured about a billion dollars into their hatcheries, and they get returns of about a billion dollars a year! Japan in warmer latitudes than BC catches 10 times as many salmon as we do.”

I would add that about a billion is spent on the Columbia for hatcheries, fish-ways and so on. Bonneville Power is a big contributor. I don’t know whether the Washington and Columbia spending overlap, but the result is still $20 Million in BC, compared with $1 Billion in Washington/Oregon.

‘Ocean ranching’ as prodigious output and catch is known – BC’s catch being 4% of the total – has Alaska pumping out more than a billion fry, particularly pink salmon that return one year from release, to prime its catch.

Alaska has features not found in BC:

·         Private, non-profit hatcheries to boost commercial, sport, subsistence and personal-use fisheries. Most hatcheries are owned by commercial fishing non-profit groups, with a few state facilities leased to non-profits;
·         Sport fish hatcheries for the sport sector; and,
·         Two federal research facilities, and a hatchery run by the Metlakatla First Nation.  

Wickham says this: “Open it up to nonprofit groups and First Nation people and others, like they do in Alaska. This wouldn't cost Canadian taxpayers anything, and we'd start getting a hugely increased share of beautiful wild salmon. We could even use the well-proven regulations from Alaska as a starting place to draft our own new law.”

I think it needs to be said that the genetic issue is real. It is widely accepted that the US hatcheries, many planting ‘springers’ (chinook that return in the spring, like the Nooksack and Samish fish. The Puntledge and Nanaimo here in BC have spring chinook, but they are wild fish) has reduced genetic diversity and homogenized gene pools by putting the same fish in dozens of rivers over a wide area of States. Springers return in the spring, but hold until the fall when they spawn, along with the typical summer chinook. We in Canada have avoided this problem.

The same can be said of the Alaska ocean-ranching of pinks. The overall genetic diversity in many Alaskan rivers has been degraded by putting out those billions of fry.

On another issue, climate change, Wickham points out that: “A paper published in the respected journal, science (Vol 342, issue 617) found that Pacific Ocean heat content has been significantly higher throughout the vast majority of the past 10,000 years, in comparison to [sic] the latter 20th century. Salmon have survived ocean changes from back before the ice ages and also regularly survive radical temperature change from their freshwater rivers to the middle ocean and back to the freshwater rivers.”

It should be added that climate change as we are experiencing it is not simply about water temperature. It includes long, hot dry summers with little water to allow salmon back up many rivers, the 2000 streams he mentions, for example. Still it is tantalizing to think of more hatcheries to put more fish in the ocean. And contacting Justin might do the trick, but I can tell you from doing so, you get put on the Liberal party donation list and then are hounded almost daily to donate. Hmm. 

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