“I really feel we need to begin to understand the broader benefit of salmon,” said Bob Chamberlin as he looked across the ocean from Ambleside Park in West Vancouver. “We have to realize what it contributes to the environment… there are just so many dominoes that will fall over when the fish are all gone. It’s heartbreaking.”
Chamberlin is a long-serving former chief councillor of Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation on Gilford Island in the Broughton Archipelago off northeastern Vancouver Island. He’s chair of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance and has been fighting for greater protection for wild salmon for decades. This year his fight looks bleaker than ever.
The impacts to First Nations in particular are devastating.
“Salmon is who we are as First Nation people,” said Chamberlin. He explained that not only does wild salmon play a critical role in ceremonial, cultural and social events, but First Nations in B.C. rely on salmon as a traditional food source.
“[Salmon] are the heart and soul of British Columbia. You go to these rivers and you see salmon and you see bears feeding on them and eagles,” he said. “They’re really important to us for keeping the ecosystem services going on on these rivers, and we’re just not seeing as many come back now. It’s quite disheartening.”
According to Thomson, those threats include habitat degradation, climate change, lack of a good food source in marine environments, and over-harvesting.
First Nations, non-governmental organizations and some scientists also point to open-net pen fish farms in coastal waters as a culprit — saying sea lice infect the wild juvenile salmon as they migrate past.
The low return of wild salmon has also drastically changed the commercial fishing industry. According to the B.C. government, the value of wild caught salmon was $235 million in 2018. Dane Chauvel runs Organic Ocean Seafood based in Richmond, B.C. They deliver seafood directly to consumers in B.C. and Ontario.
There has been some positive movement forward. This fall, Bob Chamberlin travelled up the Fraser River and got 101 First Nations, fishers and eco-tourism operators to sign a letter, demanding the government remove 18 open-net fish farms near the Discovery Islands.
Also this fall, the federal government committed to transition away from open-net pens in coastal waters to a more sustainable technology by 2025. “We’ve got collaborative, consultative bodies being developed in order to develop this plan, but it’s going to take obviously some time,” said Thomson.
But Chamberlin said action is needed now.
“My concern is this coming spring … we’re going to have way less smolts leaving the river. So in four years time, we’re going to see even less return,” he said. “This year’s return is just a precursor for the extinction. And that’s going to hit not just the economy, not just First Nations, it’s going to hit the environment, it’s going to hit the animals.”
Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca