Making a big mistake about our fish

Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist from Maple Ridge

Recently, cyclist Dave Rush and I peered over the rail of the Golden Ears Bridge at a  dozen dead salmon floating down the Fraser River.

Katzie Band Office has received numerous calls, and passed them on to DFO.

DFO’s, Michelle Imbeau: “Pre-spawn and on-route mortality are a natural occurrence. A higher abundance of returning salmon [one million to the Harrison River this year] means there will be a higher number of mortality.”

But, in her open letter to Dr. Laura Richards, DFO director general of science, Alexandra Morton says pre-spawners are dying as a result of weakened immune systems, and disease linked to open net fish farms.

“I am writing to ask for your progress report on the thousands of silver bright sockeye (not the gray, rotting ones) and now coho that are floating dead down the Fraser River tributaries feeding into the Harrison River … this has been going on since August … an estimated 100,000 sockeye have died in this area without spawning.”

The Harrison system, including the Weaver Creek Spawning Channel, near Harrison Mills, accommodates a million salmon.

I asked Morton if these fish should be tested for the infectious salmon anemia virus recently discovered in Rivers Inlet smolts. It’s wiped out fish farms around the world.

“Yes,” she replied.

Morton wants a lab on Vancouver Island. She thinks we have a crisis.

The U.S. Senate agrees. It’s ordered an “emergency” investigation, fearing a pandemic. A new bill calls for a response plan to intercept ISAV before it infects American fish.

Columnist, Mark Yuasa (Seattle Times, Oct. 21) reports: “the virus may pose a threat to the Pacific Northwest salmon fishing industry and the coastal economies that rely on it.”

Compare the B.C. Government’s response (House transcript, Oct.19), when MLA Michael Sather (Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows) challenged it to take ISAV seriously.

Sather: “Now, Dr. James Winton, who heads the fish health research group at the Western Fisheries Research Center in Seattle, called this outbreak a “disease emergency.”

My question to the minister of agriculture is: does he agree with the assessment of Dr. Winton?”

Hon. D. McRae: “Well, we’ve got another example of spinning media headlines and fear-mongering from the opposition.”

Sather: ” … you’re making a big mistake about what’s happening to our fish, our wild fish … You’re not taking it seriously, minister, and you ought to be ashamed and apologize right now.”

Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

•••••

Look at that man holding a salmon, Jack,” my wife said.

Thousands of salmon in the Weaver Creek spawning channel that October day, and hundreds of Asian visitors from tour buses. One stood out. He hoisted a sockeye above the heads of two kids poking spawners with sticks.

I shouted: “Sir, please put that fish back in the water.” Had to. Rick Stitt, the DFO on duty wasn’t near. He can’t be everywhere. DFO has cut staff.

Most visitors respect the fish.

Changhan is from mainland China. His daughter, Shannon, interpreted.

“It’s wonderful,” he told me. “Pollution in China, very sad. Canada needs protect its resources.”

Stitt says W.C. gets 70,000 visitors a year. I wondered why DFO hasn’t collected from each at the gate. It costs $1,500 to empty a Jiffy John.

Stitt saw hurdles to jump – staff, collecting money. Besides, “We’re in the fish business, not the tourist business.”

I get that. But, in Europe, someone collects money at popular attractions; another for ensuring toilets are clean. With a $5 admission fee, and more for parking, you’ve got half a million dollars. Could tourism and DFO work together here?

Changhan was surprised that he didn’t pay anything, and Jevin, a Chinese exchange student attending SFU, said, “Five dollars would be OK for students.”

Staff shortage? Volunteers at the Adams River Channel near Kamloops give talks to visitors.

Biology students from UBC and even Western Washington University (Fish 450) are regulars at Weaver. Would they share spawning behaviour, or the history of the channel with the buses of school kids?

Listen up, boys and girls.

Weaver Creek produced an average of 20,000 sockeye before logging  destroyed it in 1960, but the creek is stable again. Stitt says 16,000 spawners above the channel, 40,000 more below it.

The 3,000-metre channel, built in 1965 to save the run, only cost $281,000. It adds 296,000 sockeye to the commercial catch each year – millions of dollars to B.C. economy, hundreds of jobs. This year is the best since 2005.

The channel is a hugely successful enhancement project. It produces 76 million eggs annually; 70 per cent survive to be fry (versus 10 per cent in the creek (DFO).

Bottom line? When man and nature work together, both benefit.

Weaver Creek is proof. DFO should be announcing that proudly to the world. It may be in the “fish business,” but, it’s not wild fish.

•••••

On the Ridunkulist:

• Another senior plowed down on Brown Avenue. Should be a push button light here now, two on Dewdney Trunk. For saying one on 224th Street next year is enough, council remains on my Ridunkulist.

• DFO issued permits to kill 143 sea lions, and 37 seals from March to August (Campbell River Mirror, Sept. 20). If you dangle salmon in ocean pens, wild critters eat them. For trying to rewrite nature’s plan, the DFO is on my Ridunkulist.

Next time? Thoughts on elections and candidates.

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

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