(Contributed/Julie Porter)                                John Becker and me on Blaney Creek.

(Contributed/Julie Porter) John Becker and me on Blaney Creek.

Along the Fraser: Sharing the guilt when salmon are gone

‘We all have to get off the bank and into the water and start making a real difference.’

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are” – Roy Disney.

Thompson River steelhead used to provide one of the most famous sport fisheries on the planet, Brian Braidwood, president of the Steelhead Society of B.C., told the CBC recently.

“If we don’t take strong action over the next couple of years, we will lose it forever. If you protect their habitat and get more of them onto the spawning grounds, you can get them back.”

It’s not just steelhead.

“For the cumulative affect on the lower Fraser River, it’s a much serious picture,” says Mike Ramsay, director of B.C. Fisheries.

Ramsay told me the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada is considering adding 20 sub-species of sockeye to its endangered list.

Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Governments fail to coordinate efforts for salmon.

“We need both levels to step up,” says Aaron Hill, executive director of Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

Jurisdiction is a big problem.

In 1920, the federal government – using an Order in Council – wrestled management from the provinces. A former key B.C. politician recently told me wild salmon were “doomed” unless provinces regain control. One experienced fisheries officer told me bickering of governments over turf is lethal – DFO deals with sediment in water, Environment Canada, chemical pollution. The province regulates “game fish;” the Feds, salmon. Throw in municipalities with different rules for development near streams.

Different values, different rules. Little teamwork. Management’s a frustrating no-mans land. To keep salmon from their “doom,” says one retired DFO officer, stream keepers should form an alliance and demand funding and authority to build fish stocks as they see fit.

“They should just go wild,” he advised.

Why not?

The feds nearly killed the Salmon Enhancement Program, yet most Liberal MPs who defended it cling to silence now. They need to openly challenge Ottawa’s thinking. Education programs, hatcheries, stream improvements – which the DFO funds and groups compete for – may become history. Anyone who doesn’t speak up will share the guilt when salmon are gone.

Tough decision? Not when you know your values.

“One of my fondest memories is as a boy in Manitoba on a creek like this one with a fishing pole in my hand,” Pitt Meadows Mayor, John Becker told me as we watched salmon spawn last Sunday at Blaney Creek.

To our left was Pitt Meadows. To the right, Maple Ridge. Chum digging redds weren’t impeded by political borders.

What can cities do?

“I reject the notion that wild salmon are doomed,” Becker said. “As a mayor and council, we’ve started standing up more strongly on environmental issues that affect our children and our future. I will do what I can as an advocate with my federal and provincial colleagues to make sure those jurisdictions with the resources do a proper job. It’s a question of holding people accountable and working collaboratively with them. We need to do whatever the city and residents can for the support of salmon. We all have to get off the bank and into the water and start making a real difference.”

Becker said he’ll broach the idea of an independent Pitt Meadows committee to advise council on environmental issues this Saturday in the Pitt Meadows library, 10–11 a.m.

From 2-4 p.m. in the Heron Room, City Hall Annex, Lina Azeez of Watershed Watch Salmon Society and Friends of Katzie Slough welcome public input on the future of this waterway with the potential to rear thousands of fry.

“We’ll report on what we’ve done to rehabilitate the slough to date,” said Azeez.

During a farmer-to-farmer meeting in Pitt Meadows this year, environmental consultant Julie Porter shared water tests she conducted. They showed levels of E. coli higher than the standard for agriculture.

Subsequent tests by SFU students confirmed Porter’s results.

“Farmers told us they want consistent water flow and quality,” said Azeez.

She wants to appear before council to share public feedback, test results, and recommendations.

Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.