Sunday, 23 April 2017

Where We Go With Salmon

The well-known 1956 photo – a west coast classic taken by Alec Merriman, TC sport-fishing writer – showing Jack Seedhouse on the left, 10 Nahmint estuary, tyee chinook, and Jimmy Gilbert on the right, gives evidence of the salmon largesse that was common in BC not long ago.


Today, such fishing has disappeared because the responsibility for maintaining it has also disappeared – that means DFO. We have had many commissions/reports over the decades, including the Pearse and 2012 Cohen Commission, the Parliamentary Committee on Fisheries and Oceans in 2017, the Royal Society in 2012 and so on.

My Environmental Petition through the federal Auditor General asked for the disaggregated budget and actual FTEs (full time equivalents) for each of Cohen’s 75 recommendations. As an answer, I received mush. I know it is mush because I used to write such mush in the Ministry of Finance in BC. In addition, I drafted more than 5,000 minister’s letters during my stint. 

You can go to the link below and read Minister Shea’s response to my AG EP 353 in 2013. She does not give actual budget disbursements, nor actual numbers of people for each recommendation. Instead the response mushes together groups of recs, lumps them into ‘themes’, and shies away from $$ unless it serves the purpose to put some broad brush unspecified attribution there.

Here is the answer for DFO responsibilities, recs 1,2 and 3: “The roles and responsibilities of the Minister and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with respect to decisions related to fisheries management and fish habitat within federal jurisdiction are clearly communicated to First Nations, other governments and stakeholders. This includes making conservation the first priority in the delivery of regulatory responsibilities.”

Mush. Note that Cohen told DFO the responsibility for wild salmon and fish farms was a conflict of interest, and DFO had to get back to only wild salmon. Look at the image above and read the last paragraph again. Mush.

I just finished, A Stain Upon the Coast, and the chapters from former DFO staffers, Otto Langer, and Rosella M. Leslie, make clear that to DFO in Ottawa ‘any fish is a good fish’ and with their neo-liberalist slant, Ottawa has no interest in wild BC salmon, only easy to grow farmed ones. There are lots of good people in DFO in BC, but Ottawa is moribund. And it has a different agenda.

So, where do we go with salmon? As habitat restoration is the most important of the top four issues – DFO, habitat restoration, fish farms and climate change – I think BC has to take back the responsibility, with funding coming to rest at the Pacific Salmon Foundation, with its great ability to leverage funds disbursed to individuals, orgs and businesses. I have noted before that with some matching funding from the province and Ottawa, we would have more than $20 million per year.
CEO Brian Riddell is a good man, and did his stint in Ottawa, before coming back here to finish out his career. Lucky us to have a connected person, during a transition period.

With local watershed partners – whose big interest, after all, is their own streams – many, many more projects can be undertaken than presently is the case.

Here are a few big-ticket items: 

Science: A Gene Bank of all the 9562 strains of salmon in BC. We need to have on record all the genetic diversity that our salmon possess for adaptation to specific bodies of freshwater, for example, the more than 100 strains of Fraser sockeye. It is already possible to sequence DNA synthetically, and at some point, with a delivery method, say a carrier viral molecule, we can re-enhance remaining wild stocks. Then those progeny are put in the stream where the genes came from and get on with what they do naturally.

More science: A Living Gene Bank. The BC Ministry of Environment and Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC did such a project for wild summer steelhead. The purpose was to enhance a number of runs, for example, Qualicum, Keogh, Tsitika, with first generation broodstock, and then let the run re-establish itself. The main aim was to eliminate as much as possible, the interference in natural selection that results in hatchery operations from combining milt and eggs by humans.

An example of reducing natural diversity occurred in Pacific USA states to the south. They used spring springs, they called springers, and from hatcheries, put them in numerous rivers. Unfortunately, over time, the natural diversity went down with negative results, and now they wished they had not done such a large program of generic fish. And Alaska’s ‘Ocean Ranching’ with pinks could backfire in due course, although its only intent is to produce a much larger commercial catch. In other words, lack of genetic diversity is not a big issue, provided they are clear that they are wiping it out in the rivers they put fry into.

Headwater dams. The interest in this one stems from the fact that climate change is giving us warmer, drier summers – the opposite of what we want for salmon. Rivers volumes decline, temperatures rise, O2 declines, algae rises, resulting in negative conditions for fry, chiefly chinook and coho. Pink and chum leave the river upon hatching, so a too hot river is not an issue for them, until their return.

The purpose of this one is to have water to release into streams during the summer, thus maintaining fry populations. On the other hand, dams are expensive, need repair and a BC Liberal government would want to see them as Run of River Power operations, a competing priority. And DFO did walk away from the De Mamiel Creek dam even though it was only a $50,000 repair. Think if it had been Jordan River dam, where private properties were purchased to prevent a catastrophic dam burst scenario.

Weirs for Lakes on Salmon Streams – there should be more widespread use of weirs at lake outlets. Lakes have numerous in-flow streams, from a much larger area than simply a river, and often have snow-pack above, for holding water later. Again, this needs to be selective, and the weirs need to be in scale with the environment, and the choice of lake is important. Horne Lake, for example, keeps the Big Q in water all summer from the weir. On the other hand, the Cowichan with its dozens of different stakeholders is a quagmire for the issue of a weir. The best lakes are those without many humans on them.

Cabling Logs: Logging companies need to be required to cable logs into predetermined spots on rivers – and get a tax break for the ‘donation’. Cabling does two things: it creates suitable habitat for fry, as well as cover for searun cutthroat, Dolly Varden char, sculpins and so on; and, it shoots the past century of logging gravel from clogged up streams out the estuary into the sea. Two good examples, on Van Isle are the San Juan and the Klanawa. 

Both rivers have wasted sections, and if you go look at the San Juan, the log jam that blew, wiped out a half mile wide stretch of forest, for many miles down to the confluence with the Harris. In its case, the jam should have been blown years ago. Now it’s a moonscape, much too hot and has the dead look that comes from a river that has a cross section that looks like a tea cup saucer, and with zero habitat.

The Klanawa, at least its east tributary is completely destroyed, and cabling would bring it back, perhaps even a century before would happen naturally. Memory tells me that that trib is almost 20 kms long.

Back Channel Enhancement. Two good examples on Van Island are the chum channel on the Big Q and the coho maze on the Taylor. Note that we want more near tide water for chum and pinks. Chum being both big and high in numbers, are toted by the hundreds into the forest by bears for tree nourishment.

The Big Q channel, in line with the river, can be closed at the top end, so that its flow is managed, and once chum are in the channel, the right height can be established. Because chum are indiscriminate in their spawning, and tend to do so on high water events, as much as 90% of their eggs are wasted, from being spawned above the usual river height. All are killed as soon as the monsoon pulse has declined. But channels like the Big Q can provide habitat that is then controlled after the chum have done their spawn, until fry venture forth in early spring.

The Taylor also uses a flat, that is at river height, with back channels added, river entry and exit established, and provides spawning habitat, mostly for coho which are side channel spawners, and of course, because of Sproat Lake below, used by sockeye, too. The Taylor flat runs along side the highway for almost 10 kms, before the road crosses on its way to Tofino/Ucluelet. So, there is a vast potential for coastal rivers, that is presented precisely because the entire route is the historical river mouth that has been extended over the eons by more and more gravel washed from the surrounding mountains.

The same plan can be used as a major natural enhancement item, on numerous rivers. Any river that has oxbows, meaning old river channels that, the river, having changed its course, are water-filled year-round, and may be out there for 50 years as wet, under tree cover, weedy, rooty cool spots. The Nitinat has more than a half dozen such ‘sloughs’ as they are known. The issue is finding them. Locals help here.

Local Stewards: this one is obvious. The people who know most and most care about a river are those who actually use it, and they should be entrusted from their affection to do the deed in bringing them back, ‘One Stream at a Time’ as the PSF says; this includes paying more attention to aboriginal knowledge than in the past. 

I see the pride in the river warrior guys who now do river swims, which have a great degree of danger in them. A wild example is the Eve ‘canyon’ that is more than ten kms long. But at its estuarial end, at what is known as The Kiddie Pool, there is a side creek that has had some work done on regularizing it through the alder forest, including having a berm built at the last bridge above. It receives pinks in the summer that spawn in a few inches of water, and chum once the monsoons organize themselves in October. 

Reclaiming Weakened Laws: the laws that Harper et al weakened for salmon habitat, the Fisheries Act, s35, 36, the Canada Environmental Assessment Act, and so on. See the link below. Note that DFO in the past year, when citizens have criticized the Trudeau government for not changing them right away, has indicated that it doesn’t want to go back to the past, and so the very machinery that works for us, is against what we, the public, want. The HADD provision for example – we do indeed want net gain for habitat destruction.

Adequate Enforcement Budget and Staffing: there is no point having any law at all if its provisions won’t be enforced. Read Randy Nelson’s, Poachers, Polluters, and Polities, for the travesty of the past budgets and staffing for C&P – the mythical 50 planned positions story is a classic. He was the director of the branch and also made a lengthy, detailed submission to Cohen on the short comings of both budget and staffing problems in DFO. It is on the Cohen Site.

I am sure others have good ideas, too.

1.     Dennis Reid Environmental Petition:
2.     Fish habitat laws weakened by Ottawa: This post brings together five years of my writing on environmental laws in Canada.
3. The Parliamentary Committee on Fisheries and Oceans recommendations are here:

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