The Plight of BC Salmon or How I Realized my Apathy Wasn’t Helping

I think I am cursed when it comes to blogging. I was almost done a new post on that infamous “parts” abstinence commercial in the US when my computer went FOOM. So until I sort out my back-ups from the disaster, that post is on hiatus (as well as a few others). Instead, I’d like to talk about fish.
I was born on the West Coast of Canada, where nature, according to our tourism guides, is plentiful. One particularly important species to the West Coast identity is salmon. In particular, the sockeye salmon. Every year my school would head down to the rivers were the salmon would spawn for a field trip. Admittedly, I’ve never been able to eat a salmon after seeing so many dead ones, but these trips and the annual salmon segment in our province’s curriculum were part of my childhood and part of my Canadian identity. Salmon were an integral part of our introduction to environmentalism and nature, as we covered the problems of fish farms, pollution and over-fishing. Declining salmon stocks were a major theme in our studies as they were a well-known phenomena.

Fifteen years later, news headlines are telling us that the projected salmon run this year will amount to around only one million fish instead of the projected ten million. This sudden shortage is of a number that utterly boggles my mind. After over fifteen years of knowing that something was seriously wrong, what has been done? According to the recent articles, not much.

Salmon are not only a part of BC identity, but they are also an important source of food for both humans and wild animals alike. Losing the salmon will create huge disruptions and failures within the tourism industry, it will cause food imbalances and shortages for communities (Aboriginals in particular) and will represent the lose of yet another beautiful and integral species in the world.

No one species exists in a vacuum. For example, according to various conservation groups, reported sightings of bears in BC have fallen dramatically. This is supposed to be a result of a mass rise in starvation levels for bears over the winter who could not consume enough in the way of high energy food to survive hibernation. Although much controversy has arisen over these statements, with some scientists saying such claims are “alarmist”, the idea sounds probable enough that actual enquiries as to its verity need to be conducted. Furthermore, it seems rather suspicious that these reports and the counterclaims to them are coming out during the beginning of the annual grizzly hunt. Have we really looked into whether or not bear population numbers are declining or do we simply want to save a profitable commercial endeavour? What’s more important: the survival of BC bears or the right for hunters to shoot them and our government to make money off of the event?

So what exactly has happened to the salmon? Unfortunately, research has been sparse because it would require significant funds to be able to track the fish through their ocean lifespan. However, certain new trends in food production point towards potential problems that could be part of the cause. For instance, ever since omega fatty 3 acids became one of the “in” health supplements, consumption of fish has nearly tripled from 1995 to 2007. Most of these fish are coming from fish farms, but that does not mean that it does not have an effect on natural fish stocks. In order for the fish we consume to contain omega fatty 3 acids, the fish have to eat fatty acids themselves. When fish farming, many facilities use wild fish feed. On average, it takes five kilos of wild fish to sustain and raise one kilo of farmed fish. Not only are we wiping out these wild fish, but we are depriving wild salmon of a source of food. It is setting the entire ecosystem off balance.

BC has, of course, responded to these issues but I am afraid that their attempts to say that the numbers really aren’t that bad, that everything is fine and dandy and things can go on like the status quo are simply not enough. This year’s run of sockeye has been the lowest on record according to the fishery ministries. From climate change to overfishing, pollution to the degradation of ecosystems, the salmon have been confronted with a vast range of destruction and deadly circumstances that are a direct result of human intervention and they can, therefore, only be rectified with human action. It is very probable that without action soon, we will lose some of our species of salmon. In fact, according to some scientific research, we may be losing more than just our salmon (See the website down below on “The End of the Line”). Without food, our society cannot function. Without a healthy world, the beings we have become, the things we have made, the very foundation of our humanity will collapse. The story of the BC salmon terrifies me for it illuminates how our society is staring rapid change and probable destruction in the face, yet still manages to ignore this information in lieu of continuing on with the “good life”. I used to think that my greatest battles and my most important instances of activism were about people, but recently I’ve been realizing that environmentalism and food politics are critical to making sure that people can live. Fifteen years ago, going to the salmon run wasn’t something I particularly enjoyed. I didn’t like salmon and learning over and over again that we needed to save the salmon seemed rather ironic while we were eating them for lunch. Today, I still don’t particularly like salmon, but I do recognize their importance and how my apathy has contributed to the general air of not caring. I still don’t like to eat them, but I certainly now want to speak for them.

Reading Up on the Issue

The Globe and Mail has been running a consistent series of articles on it’s salmon crisis for the past couple weeks.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/british-columbia/no-answers-in-bcs-sudden-salmon-collapse/article1277846/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/british-columbia/grizzlies-starve-as-salmon-disappear/article1279874/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/food-and-wine/fish-farms-put-squeeze-on-marine-resources/article1279812/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/minister-pours-cold-water-on-fears-over-collapse-of-salmon-fisheries/article1284281/

http://endoftheline.com/ – Upcoming documentary on the problems of overfishing all over the world.

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