And while bears and eagles seem to know where to find the fish, but it can be difficult for us humans to track them down.
Difficult that is, unless your North Vancouver photographer Fernando Lessa, who documents the salmon run every year, in rivers and creeks all over Metro Vancouver.
This year Lessa made his way to the Adams River to capture the annual natural wonder, and shared his photos with Daily Hive.
Speaking about how he chose his location, Lessa said the Adams River is a “very important” river and that two million fish were expected this year.
It’s rare to get a permit to shoot at this location, he added, “since the photographer/ videographer has to be very careful not to disturb the eggs” or the nesting grounds.
“Once the fish migrate from the Adams lake to the river, they start laying the eggs in the gravel; exposed to predators and to human activity,” Lessa explained.
Lesa said that since 2016, he’s been working on what’s known as the Urban Salmon project.
“It’s the first documentation of the Salmonids in the Urban environment,” he explained, noting that Since DFO is aware of his project (and knows that he’s careful) they were happy to give me one of the permits.”
This year Lessa said he stayed at the river for seven days at the beginning of October.
“That’s a bit early, since the running peak happens mid-October,” he said. “My goal was getting fish as fresh as possible (once in the river they start to deteriorate fast), so red tones are more intense.”
He added he was “very interested in documenting the big schools holding by the river mouth, before they get in the river.”
As for the size of this year’s run, Lessa said that while the sockeye run happens every year, this year was especially impressive.
Once every four years, “you get a more intense run, called King run. 2018 is a King year, and two million fish are expected to make the trip to the Adams River.”
Although he’s done this before, Lessa said this year was his first time with Sockeye in the Adams.
“I’m glad to have the chance to dive and interact with the fish so close,” he said. “The year after a king run is also considered good, and I hope to be able to go there again in 2019.”
After two years on the project for his forthcoming book, Lessa told Daily Hive he’s “very happy to say it’s almost ready.”
The plan, he explained, “is to launch a coffee table book that not just show how lucky we are to have the salmon around us, but also the importance of the urban creeks.”
Pre-sales of the book are scheduled to start this December, with the book expected to be available in major book stores by February 2019.
Reflecting on the project at this point, Lessa thanked those involved with making it happen.
“I would like to thank Zoann Morten, from The Pacific Streamkeepers Federation, Wes Dearmond, from Fisheries & Oceans Canada, and The Adams River Salmon Society,” he said. “Without those people I would never been able to do it.”
Images of the orca J35 Tahlequah carrying her dead newborn for a heartbreaking 17 days over 1,600 kilometres were seen around the world.
Canadian and American veterinarians and biologists then joined forces in dramatic fashion to diagnose and treat the ailing three-year-old J50 Scarlet from the same pod, but failed to save her life.
Three deaths this summer — including the young male L92 Crewser, which disappeared in June — have focused the world’s attention on the difficulties facing southern resident killer whales like never before.
Now, the world will watch as we bring the 74 remaining community members back from the brink, or witness their extinction.
Biologists and conservationists hope the celebrity of the Salish Sea’s orcas can be used to save them.
“They are a symbol for a lot of species that share their ecosystem and some of them are doing poorly, too,” said Vancouver Aquarium veterinarian Marty Haulena.
Sea stars, chinook and sockeye salmon and rockfish populations are all in distress, but considerably less photogenic than orcas.
“Hopefully the southern residents have the star power to get some attention,” said Haulena.
Orcas have strong family bonds, they play, and apparently grieve their losses, making them uniquely relatable.
“That is why we take their deaths so hard,” said Mark Leiren-Young, director of The Hundred Year Old Whale and author of The Killer Whale Who Changed the World.
“The photos of a baby orca leaping through the air that went viral — captioned ‘learning to fly’ — that was J50 Scarlet,” he said. “She was the symbol of a baby boom, the symbol of hope. And this is the whale that we just watched die.”
Scientists who study the West Coast’s killer whales identify individuals by their dorsal fins and a unique white saddle patch. Each gets a number and then a name, and hence a public persona.
Vets and biologists are now gearing up to provide personalized medical attention to the southern residents.
Veterinary researcher Joe Gaydos of UC Davis, working with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has created individualized health records for every member, like you and I have with our family doctor.
“We need to know a lot more about the individual health of these animals,” said Haulena. “We can’t treat them as a population anymore. We have so few left that we need to know why every individual has died. And we don’t.”
Gaydos has adapted an approach developed for a closely monitored group of mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda.
“(The gorillas) each have a health record, they are all vaccinated, and they are treated medically when something goes wrong,” Haulena said.
American researchers are able to collect feces, breath samples and “snot” from the southern residents, and use darts to collect samples of skin and blubber, according to Lynne Barre, southern resident killer whale recovery co-ordinator for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“We slice and dice these samples and cross-reference it with other data in every way we can think of to get a full picture,” she said.
The physical condition of the whales is assessed from photographs and video taken from the water’s surface and from aerial drones.
“So we watch and listen and sometimes even smell their breath,” she said.
Blubber samples in particular reveal the presence of toxins, from long-banned DDT and PCBs to newer threats such as PBDE flame retardants.
“Some of these are endocrine disrupters that are persistent in the environment and accumulate over time, affecting reproduction and the immune system,” said Barre.
A study published last week in the journal Science found that southern residents are moderately affected by PCBs compared to killer whale groups in Brazil and Europe, yet the contamination is predicted to negatively affect their ability to reproduce.
PCBs accumulate and concentrate in fish-eating fish such as chinook.
One sign of hope is that the whales continue to mate and conceive.
Females from J, K and L pods are showing signs of pregnancy and in mid-September the southern residents from all three pods merged into a super-pod near Race Rocks on Vancouver Island.
“We heard that there was a lot of social activity going on,” said Barre.
Time for action
The southern residents that make their summer home in the Salish Sea between the Fraser River and Bamfield on the west coast of Vancouver Island haven’t successfully produced a calf in three years.
Three members died just this summer, including the male L92 Crewser, who was declared missing in June. He was just 23 and in his prime.
Just a decade ago, surviving calves were being born at a rate of three, four or five per year. But since November of 2015, not a single one has survived.
Forty surviving calves have been born to the group since 1998. Over the same period, 73 southern residents have died.
Most cetaceans have a higher mortality rate in the first year of life, said Haulena.
But many of the other 17 orcas that perished since 2012 were in their prime — 13, 18, 20 and 23 years old.
“Orcas in their prime absolutely should be surviving,” he said.
A 27-year-old male, K25, has recently showed signs of decline in aerial photos, which Barre characterized as a “warning signal.”
Evidence points to a lack of food — mainly chinook salmon — as a threat to the orcas’ survival. Underwater noise from shipping, ferries, commercial and recreational fishing boats, and whale watchers interferes with their ability to locate what little prey is available.
Six groups, including the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the David Suzuki Foundation, asked the courts on Sept. 5 to compel the federal government to issue an emergency order under the Species at Risk Act to protect the southern residents and their main food source, chinook salmon.
The chinook are themselves in deep crisis. The Columbia River chinook are listed as endangered in the U.S., and last week Fisheries and Oceans Canada released data showing this season’s chinook returns in the Fraser River were well below the historical average.
Earlier this year the litigating groups asked Ottawa to curtail sport fishing and whale watching in critical feeding areas. The government responded by reducing the chinook catch by 25 to 35 per cent and increasing the buffer zone for whale watching to 200 metres.
Parts of the most important foraging areas in the Gulf Islands and the Strait of Juan de Fuca were closed to all fishing and partial closures were implemented at the mouth of the Fraser River.
“Since the death of three whales, including J50, we have upped our ask,” said Misty MacDuffee, a biologist for Raincoast. “Now we want the closure of all marine-based commercial and sport chinook fisheries.”
The groups are also calling for a full ban on whale watching for the southern residents.
Up to two dozen whale-watching vessels follow the group daily in their main feeding areas on the Salish Sea, she said.
Whales or oil?
The plight of the southern residents is now central to the progress of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.
In overturning the pipeline approval, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the National Energy Board should have considered the impact of increased tanker traffic on southern resident killer whales.
Federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson hinted this week that further protections for killer whales could come before cabinet decides whether to approve the pipeline again, after the National Energy Board’s do-over review is complete.
The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would increase the number of large vessels entering the Port of Vancouver by about six per week. The port currently serves 3,200 vessels a year.
Ottawa’s $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan — created in advance of Trans Mountain’s original approval — included plans to improve prey availability for the whales and to reduce underwater noise that interferes with the their ability to communicate and locate prey.
The government will invest an additional $167 million over five years in the Whales Initiative, supporting research, enforcement and education, and adding fisheries officers to ensure compliance to new regulations by anglers. Aerial surveillance over critical habitat has been increased by 30 per cent, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada is spending $9.5 million on chinook habitat restoration on the Fraser, Thompson and Skeena Rivers and salmon streams on Vancouver Island, much of it in collaboration with First Nations.
A $150-million industry-funded oil spill protection plan was suspended when the pipeline approval was overturned.
A recent study published in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology suggests that a major oil spill near the orcas’ summer feeding grounds could affect up to 80 per cent of their critical habitat.
Animals such as orcas that spend a lot of time at the water’s surface are most likely to suffer from contact and ingestion of diluted bitumen, the main product to be exported by the proposed pipeline expansion, the authors said.
The port has implemented two programs aimed at reducing the impact of shipping on the southern residents.
Vessels travelling through the Strait of Juan de Fuca have been asked to shift their route as far south as possible within the shipping lane to create more distance between the ships and foraging areas.
In its fourth year, Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation is a voluntary program in which ships are asked to reduce their speed through the Haro Strait to reduce underwater noise.
Underwater microphones installed in the Haro Strait found that noise created by slower vessels was “significantly” reduced, by about 6 to 11 decibels.
“We asked vessels to slow down to 11 knots,” said Carrie Brown, the port’s director of environmental programs. “We’ve had 87 per cent participation by ships in the current slowdown period.”
The program doesn’t have a specific threshold or goal for the level of underwater noise; instead it operates on the notion that any reduction in noise will be of benefit.
American authorities are considering dramatic action to improve chinook stocks and there is real public pressure to demolish four Lower Snake River dams.
Washington Governor Jay Inlee’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery Task Force has just released draft recommendations that include expanding hatchery programs, real-time orca monitoring to close active fisheries when the southern residents are in the area and removing barriers from a river system that has 14 hydroelectric dams.
After the removal of a dam on the Elwha River in 2014, chinook are returning to spawning areas above the former dam site, according to the Klallam Nation.
A massive increase in local populations of harbour seals and sea lions is also contributing to prey scarcity, because they also selectively eat chinook, according to recent research published by the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.
The report also contemplates “management actions” to control the number of harbour seals in Puget Sound. Earlier this summer, the U.S. federal government authorized a cull of sea lions in the Columbia River.
“If we don’t increase the availability of chinook and lessen the toxic load in the chinook population then we are watching (the southern residents) vanish,” said Leiren-Young.
A Fraser Valley-based conservation group has lodged a formal complaint with the College of Applied Biology over a Trans Mountain biologist’s role in the installation of matting to discourage salmon from spawning at stream sites where the company plans pipeline crossings.
In the official written complaint, WaterWealth program director Ian Stephen quotes a Trans Mountain blog post of Sept. 12, 2017, that reads: “Trans Mountain fisheries biologist Calum Bonnington and his team are temporarily installing snow fencing flat down onto some sections of streambed that are intersected by the pipeline construction right-of-way and sections immediately downstream.”
The letter adds: “Among quotes of the biologist Bonnington in the blog are that the technique is ‘a relatively new mitigative method’ and ‘a relatively new science, without a body of supporting evidence for its success.’”
Stephen asserts in the letter that “this apparently unproven spawning deterrent method” was applied to eight streams, one in Alberta and seven in B.C., that Trans Mountain considered to have a high “fish habitat sensitivity rating” in documents filed with the National Energy Board.
Among the fish species with conservation concerns found in those rivers are bull trout, chinook salmon, and Interior Fraser River coho salmon.
In addition, Stephen writes, the snow fencing was “installed prior to completion of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project’s pre-construction conditions” under both NEB and B.C. environmental assessment certificates, and prior to approval of the route of the project by NEB. “It seems safe to assume that under these circumstances there could have been no application for approvals under the Water Sustainability Act.”
WaterWealth seeks an investigation and disciplinary action.
Ali Hounsell, spokesperson for Trans Mountain, said in response that the company’s team was installing preventive measures “aimed at protecting spawning fish” and that the use of “spawning deterrents ahead of migration periods” is one tool to build the pipeline in a way that minimizes impact on the environment.
According to the company’s website, Bonnington is a “registered professional biologist who leads the team that will look after watercourse crossings” for the pipeline expansion project, which extends from Alberta to Burnaby. Bonnington started as a marine biologist in New Zealand, but converted to freshwater fish after coming to Canada 12 years ago.
On Oct. 12, NEB wrote Trans Mountain to confirm that compliance and enforcement staff have determined that installation of the “spawning deterrents prior to approval of relevant conditions for commencement of construction and approval” was non-compliant.
The NEB noted that the removal of the spawning deterrents while “fish remain actively spawning … has the potential to result in greater environmental harm” and that Trans Mountain should remove them as appropriate.
The federal regulatory agency added: “The board will hold Trans Mountain accountable for its performance during the construction and operation of this project, including full compliance with all regulatory requirements and commitments.”
Stephen said in an interview from Chilliwack on Monday that the affected streams in B.C. are located in the Valemount area, and include Swift Creek, Camp Creek, Serpentine Creek, Chappell Creek, and three crossings of Albreda River.
The complaint comes on the heels of the provincial NDP government announcing in August it is reviewing the system of professional reliance created under the former Liberal government.
Under the controversial system, the government, rather than use its own experts, relies in large part on the advice of professionals such as biologists and foresters employed by companies seeking project approvals.
How climate change, resource development and trophy hunting threaten salmon, whales and bears
Which legislative loopholes leave the Great Bear Rainforest at risk
How provincial government decisions have left B.C. wildlife in the lurch
What kind of action is needed to preserve the province’s northwest coast
Stimo’on. Misoo. Gyne’es. Ye’ee. Uuux.
These are the names of the five species of Pacific salmon in Sm’algyax, the language of the Gitga’at First Nation on the northwest coast of British Columbia.
It’s a territory they’ve occupied for thousands of years, long before the names ‘pink,’ ‘sockeye,’ ‘chum,’ ‘chinook,’ and ‘coho,’ were conceived by scientists.
The salmon are the lifeline of the First Nation, says Gitga’at Councillor Cameron Hill. As the salmon go, they go.
“Salmon keep us connected to our language and culture,” he tells National Observer. “This whole ecosystem is our way of life. We depend on it so much that we can’t do without it.”
The Gitga’at, who live in the remote community of Hartley Bay, harvest 90 per cent of their food from the land, sea, rivers and streams. Their territory encompasses roughly 7,500 square kilometres of mainland, water and coastal islands, and is the permanent home of nearly 200 of the nation’s members.
They have watched “disheartened” and “devastated” for decades, says Hill, as the rainforest’s wildlife has been ravaged by industry, climate change, trophy hunting, and weak environmental policy.
The great natural bounty of the region, known today as the Great Bear Rainforest, has never failed them before, but for the first time in their lives, they’re worried it will.
The Gitga’at will not let the Great Bear Rainforest go down without a fight: As stewards of the territory, they will “fiercely defend and protect” their land and way of life, says Hill.
Coastal Guardian Watchmen from the Gitga’at First Nation watch over Gribbell Island, home to some of the Great Bear Rainforest’s moved beloved Spirit Bears. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey
The beating heart of the rainforest
The Great Bear Rainforest is the largest coastal temperate rainforest on Earth, stretching 64,000 square kilometres from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to Alaska. It’s a rare and remarkable ecosystem roughly twice the size of Belgium, whose misty fjords, glassy waters, mossy mountains and thundering waterfalls paint a landscape of overwhelming natural beauty.
For thousands of years, the rainforest has sustained indigenous populations as one of the richest and most productive ecosystems on the planet. Its spectacular circle of life includes grizzly bears, orcas, sea wolves, Sitka deer, and the elusive white Spirit Bear — a bear found nowhere else in the world.
And the heart of it all, says B.C. biologist Alexandra Morton, are the salmon.
“They are a blood stream, a power cord,” she says from her home in Echo Bay, where she has studied Pacific salmon and their habitat for more than 30 years.
“They feed everybody. If we pull them out, this coast will go dim.”
Salmon are what’s known as a ‘keystone species’ in the Great Bear Rainforest, Morton explains, a creature whose impact on an ecosystem is disproportionately large compared to its biomass.
Their carcasses are rich in nitrogen, sulfur, carbon and phosphorus, and when bears and wolves drag them through the forest, these nutrients are deposited in the soil and landscape. From there, scientists estimate they find their way into more than 190 species of the rainforest’s food chain — from moss to mink and seals to Spirit Bears.
Isotopes from salmon who return to spawn in the rainforest have even been found in its old-growth trees, says Morton. And the bigger the salmon run, the bigger the trees grow.
A Pacific salmon passes its nutrients on to the Great Bear Rainforest’s ecosystem during spawning season in August 2016. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey
Warming waters wearing down salmon
But Pacific salmon — even those who spawn in the far away Great Bear Rainforest — are in trouble.
According to scientists from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, exceptionally warm conditions partnered with extreme climate events like El Niño have compromised their diet by bringing smaller, less nutritious plankton into B.C. waters.
With them come migratory predators like shark and mackerel that feed on salmon — a dangerous combination of events that has resulted in lower river flows and higher water temperatures that make it difficult for the fish to spawn and survive.
That in turn, he adds, weakens the resilience, density and diversity of salmon forests like the Great Bear Rainforest. It has a particularly strong impact on the ecosystem’s vulnerable and threatened predators, including grizzly bears and northern resident killer whales, whose diet mainstay is salmon.Just south of the rainforest, a decrease in salmon stocks also threatens to obliterate their southern resident killer whale neighbours — a distinct species of orca whose population has dwindled to fewer than 90 members. The southern resident feeds almost exclusively on chinook salmon, which are declining rapidly across both the Salish Sea and Columbia River basins.
But it’s not only climate change that threatens salmon and the animals that rely on them for food — it’s liquified natural gas (LNG) projects, pipeline proposals, forestry, and fish farming as well.
As British Columbia inches closer to its provincial election on May 9, all four have been thrust into the spotlight as jobs, economy, and resource development dominate political conversations.
Can tankers tank the Great Bear’s wildlife?
BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark has vowed that the province will see its LNG heyday.
Despite low global oil prices and an increasing supply of natural gas that has depressed its value on the international market, she has campaigned in communities inside the Great Bear Rainforest, promising not to give up on LNG because “quitters can’t be leaders.”
The party did not respond to requests for comment on this story and the premier’s office declined to comment. But the B.C. Ministry of Energy Mines has touted LNG as a source of clean energy, and an “opportunity to achieve significant GHG emissions reductions” while boosting provincial jobs and revenues.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), Canada’s oil and natural gas industry advocate, declined to say whether it felt LNG or crude oil projects could be done safely in the Great Bear Rainforest or on B.C.’s northwest coast at large. Instead, it said the onus is on governments to decide whether a project is “acceptable to proceed” in an email statement to National Observer:
“Any major development must undergo a rigorous environmental assessment prior to construction… We’ve seen several projects in northern B.C. meet the environmental requirements and gain approval.”
As it stands, there are 19 LNG export proposals in various stages of development in the province, about two thirds of which include infrastructure or shipping routes that would plough through or beside the Great Bear Rainforest.
The $36-billion Pacific NorthWest LNG project, for example — already given the green light by the B.C. and federal governments — aims to build a natural gas pipeline that would cut straight through the rainforest to get to a proposed terminal on Lelu Island.
This will bring it right next door to Flora Bank, a sensitive and ancient underwater habitat in northwestern B.C. where new research indicates all five species of Pacific salmon feed and grow for weeks at a time.
According to Pacific NorthWest’s consultants, Flora Bank is a temporary stop for juvenile salmon, not a rearing site. Federal conditions placed on the project also require the company to monitor the area, and ensure that its marine terminal does not result in adverse effects on Flora Bank and its salmon. If constructed, the project is expected to generate roughly $2.5 billion in tax revenue for governments and 4,500 jobs during peak construction.
But according to whale researcher Janie Wray, LNG infrastructure — and the fracking that accompanies it — pose an enormous risk to wildlife that in many cases, cannot be mitigated. Add in the tanker traffic for its overseas shipments, she says, and it could spell catastrophe.
A humpback whale dives to the depths of a channel in the Great Bear Rainforest after surfacing for air near a tour boat. File photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey
“When these tankers go through, the wave action hitting the shoreline has got to be having an effect on the environment forage fish may be spawning in,” she explains. “There’s just so many factors to think about beyond the incidence of a spill, which is devastating no matter what.”
To reduce the risks of a disastrous oil spill in the Great Bear Rainforest, the federal government is enacting a crude oil tanker moratorium for B.C.’s north coast. But there is little legislation to protect the ecosystem from LNG tankers, whose most egregious impact may be acoustic pollution, says Wray.
Wray, stationed at Cetacea Lab in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest, has been listening to the songs of humpbacks, orcas, and fin whales for more than 20 years. They return to the region annually, she says, likely because they know the waters to be safe, quiet, and full of prey.
Whales use vocalization not only to hunt and herd their food, she explains, but also to court one another, play, and navigate through the Great Bear’s dark waters. Other reasons for their melodic cries are “still a beautiful mystery,” she says, describing resident orcas as “chatty,” and humpbacks as having “a lot of culture.”
Experts agree that if tankers start roaring through this habitat, the noise disturbance would seriously disrupt whale communication, resulting in symptoms ranging from deafness to death. They would also dramatically increase the odds of a whale-vessel collision, says Wray: tankers can’t turn on a dime to avoid whales, which have a habit of surfacing unexpectedly.
And while landmark conservation agreements protect much of the terrestrial habitat in the Great Bear Rainforest, she says the lack of protection for its marine inhabitants is “embarrassing.”
Critical habitat for whales
“There’s no coastline like this on the planet,” she insists. “I think we need to seriously think about setting aside an area along the coast of B.C. that is ‘critical habitat for whales.’”
Under the federal Species at Risk Act, a critical habitat designation could help prevent large-scale industrial development that produces intense noise, contaminates or alters the habitat, as it has done for Canada’s North Atlantic right whale.
It’s especially important for the southern resident killer whale, which hunts just below the Great Bear Rainforest, as it faces a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic through its favourite feeding grounds.
The proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion — whose Alberta-B.C. pipeline and crude oil tanker traffic has already been approved by governments — will almost certainly drive them into extinction, says Jason Colby, a University of Victoria professor and expert on orca-human conflict.
It’s impossible to claim you are serious about saving the species, he adds, if you also support projects that result in increased tanker traffic through their habitat.
“Those are absolutely, fundamentally, contradictory positions,” he says in an interview. “We need to ask ourselves what this place will look like, and what our identity is if we lose the southern resident killer whale.
“What will have we lost in our regional and cultural identity, along with our tourist economy?”
An issue of jurisdiction
When it comes to the matter of marine protection, says Colby, it’s important to note that the B.C. government has limited powers. Oceans fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government, which in addition to a crude oil tanker ban for the north coast, has announced a new Oceans Protection Plan to help protect whales from tanker traffic.
According to the plan, researchers will locate and track marine mammals in high tanker traffic areas and relay that information to mariners. They will identify and assess the most pressing local environmental issues, along with the effectiveness of existing mitigation measures.
This plan would be in place by the time Trans Mountain’s tankers roll through, as will the company’s own Marine Mammal Protection Program, which is due to the federal National Energy Board regulatory agency three months before the pipeline starts its operations.
None of that will change the fundamental issue facing the whales, says Colby: a massive increase in tanker traffic is bound for their hunting grounds, carrying either oil or LNG.
While it may not have jurisdiction over marine protection, the B.C. government could have commissioned more intense study not only of endangered whale populations, he argues, but the reason their favourite salmon stocks are declining as well. That would strengthen B.C.’s position in lobbying the federal government for increased protection for marine wildlife, he says, and better equip them to make decisions on the LNG projects to come.
“If you lose healthy salmon runs, you’re not just talking about lost fishing jobs, which has been happening for a long time,” he tells National Observer. “You’re talking about profound ecological change in the water sheds, rivers and forests.”
As it stands, approval of both the Trans Mountain expansion and the Pacific NorthWest LNG project has been taken to court by local First Nations, who say they threaten vital salmon runs throughout their traditional territory.
Meantime, if governments want to start protecting this keystone species — and by extension, the entire Great Bear Rainforest — salmon aficionado Alexandra Morton recommends starting with a crack down on net-pen fish farming.
Farmed salmon a danger to wild Pacific stocks
According to the BC Salmon Farmers Association, there are 109 salmon farms spread throughout the B.C. coastline. Dozens are located in the Great Bear Rainforest, raising Atlantic salmon from Campbell River to Klemtu, home of the Kitasoo/ Xai’xais First Nations.
In total, says the association, these farms occupy half a per cent of B.C.’s coastal waters and at each and every one of them, fish hygiene and safety is a top priority.
“Pen nets are cleaned regularly from top to bottom,” says the unnamed narrator of a promotional video on the association’s website. “Operators are consistently striving to improve farming practices, and underwater monitors guard against overfeeding, ensuring a lower impact on the ocean floor and a cleaner, safer habitat for the fish.”
Oversight of the industry — which generates more than $1.1 billion for the province every year — is a shared responsibility of the B.C. and federal governments. In order to keep their licenses, salmon farmers must adhere to a strict set of rules designed to protect wild salmon by minimizing their contact with farmed fish and stopping the spread of disease and bacteria.
But according to Morton, these measures are failing. While the threat of commercial fishing has largely been extinguished, she says deadly viruses have been detected in B.C.’s open-net cage farms that can make wild Pacific salmon extremely sick.
Compounded with the warming waters and ocean acidification brought on by climate change, she says net-pen farming may push some Pacific salmon runs to the breaking point.
An introductory video by the BC Salmon Farmers Association explains what net-pen salmon farming is all about.
Morton and her lawyers at Ecojustice have taken the federal government to court for allowing the transfer of farmed salmon that have not been tested for a dangerous virus into underwater pens in the wild — a practice they say is illegal under federal fishing regulations.
“The sea lice and the viruses coming from the farms are an enormous threat to them,” the biologist explains. “There is no place in the world that wild salmon and farms are thriving together. It’s like two worlds colliding.”
Former BC Minister and longtime journalist Rafe Mair (photo: Youtube/CMHABC)
Dear Prime Minister,
I’ve reached a point where I can say what I please without concern for personal consequences. My age of ambition is long gone and social disapproval simply doesn’t matter anymore.
That is where I am and intend to speak my piece.
I’m a native British Columbia born in Vancouver a long time ago. I have a lifetime love of my province from one end to the other and I inherited a sense of deep anger when I see unfairness.
Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna with BC Premier Christy Clark (right) announcing her government’s approval of Petronas’ LNG project near Prince Rupert (Province of BC/Flickr)
For as long as I can remember, I’ve resented that my province has been unfairly treated, a resentment that has increased steadily over the years. We have been badly cheated politically and economically, accompanied by an attitude of arrogance from central Canada, which runs everything, an attitude that I find irritating beyond toleration.
Start with the humiliating fact that BC has but 6 senators while New Brunswick has 10 and PEI 4. This, along with the federal government appointing our senators, who are supposed to hold that very government’s feet to the fire, is outrageous. This and the “First Past The Post” system ensures that all political power rests, unchallengeable, in Central Canada. To see how this is resented in BC, you need only look at the 1992 Charlottetown Accord, designed to make one province juridically superior, opposed, thank God, by your father, and rejected by 67.9% of British Columbians!
Because of the Senate and the First Past The Post system in the House of Commons, Central Canada invariably has the Prime Minister who, given a majority, controls all federal legislation and policy. Please don’t pretend that our lot of Liberal toadies have any power except to say “yes sir”.
Most British Columbians care little about the Governor-General since, under central Canadian arrogant navel gazing, none have ever come from this, the third largest province. The G-G is appointed either to mollify Quebec, Bay Street, or the Central Canada artsy fartsy crowd. The present Governor-General, David Johnston, a Tory Grandee, was, by an amazing coincidence, appointed shortly after he, in the pay of Tory PM Stephen Harper, gave former Tory PM Brian Mulroney a “get out of jail free card”. Lyin’ Brian was pleased, Harper was pleased, Johnston was pleased. You have to say this about Central Canada: they look after each other.
A Norwegian-owned BC salmon farm (Damien Gillis)
Under the constitution, provinces control their natural resources – except when it comes to fish. The Pacific salmon has been so mismanaged by Ottawa that one is tempted to suggest it’s deliberate. Going too far? How else can one explain the foreign fish farms, not just permitted in BC, but actively promoted by a DFO prepared to destroy the Pacific salmon by disease, sea lice, and, when they escape, crowding them off their spawning redds?
As a BC minister, I examined the history of federal involvement back to 1871 and the record is appalling. Ask First Nations, who are the past, present, and future victims of this gross mismanagement, how they see your stewardship!
With respect, prime minister, British Columbia and Canada no longer have the same set of values. A nation can survive and prosper with great diversity. It can have many languages, a plethora of different originating cultures, all races, colours, and creeds – yet so long as there is a common set of basic values, it can form a strong nation. That is the critical point. Once that is gone the nation no longer exists in fact, no matter what the Constitution says.
The basic values of British Columbians and Canada diverge on this central question: Which is more important – our way of life, surroundings, and the environment or the growth of industry, resource extraction, and moneymaking?
It’s not all or nothing – each side will always concede a little bit of the other – but the trouble is that our side is compelled to concede virtually all while yours pays lip service only with pallid environmental rules, never enforced if they ever really get in the way. Our side accepts the need for a robust economy, but not at the cost of destroying a way of life that preserves the enormous natural benefits God gave us.
Vancouver rally against Kinder Morgan (Photo: David Suzuki Foundation/Facebook)
We in British Columbia have learned some hard lessons, most important of which is there isn’t always another valley full of trees to chop down. The forestry industry in British Columbia, thanks to the courage of many mostly young men and women over the last 60 years, now is in sight of self perpetuation. That has morphed into an overall attitude which takes into consideration those values in British Columbia we have always coveted but are under serious attack by the industry-at-all-costs movement in Canada, of which, by the Kinder Morgan approval, you are now leader. You, the Prime Minister, are our enemy!
It has perhaps come as a surprise to you as it has come as a very unpleasant surprise to much industry, especially the fossil fuel industry, that we so highly regard our environment, especially, though not exclusively, our mountains, lakes, rivers, trees, farmland, coastline and ocean. You don’t seem to realize that Burrard inlet, Howe Sound, the Salish Sea, the Gulf Islands,the Straits of Juan de Fuca, the west coast are sacred to Btitish Columbians. Other regions have their own sacred values and we support them in their fight to protect them, with particular regard at this moment for the Site C Dam proposal in the Peace River.
I don’t believe I draw too long a bow when I say that we understand that the French language and culture means means so much to Quebec yet you scoff at us in British Columbia because our natural blessings mean just as much to us. I cannot understand why you and other Canadians are unable to understand just how vehemently we are opposed to the Kinder Morgan pipeline and how far we are prepared to go to defend against it. We wouldn’t for a milli-second tolerate this desecration of what we hold dear by a BC Tar Sands, BC financiers and BC tanker companies – why the devil do you think we feel less resolved because it’s the Alberta Tar Sands, Bay Street and other foreign bankers or offshore tanker companies?
Mr. Trudeau, sir, you have this to answer for. Virtually all the world of science agrees that we must wean ourselves off of the use of fossil fuels. You made an instant international reputation for yourself at the Paris conference in 2015 by taking that very stand. We, in this province, took you seriously. We did not believe that the Tar Sands of Alberta, for example, would ever pose a threat to British Columbia under the clear mandate you delivered.
Now, we find that you didn’t mean what you said. Not only have you approved an LNG plant in Squamish, against the wishes of most British Columbians, now you propose grave consequences on an infinitely grander scale, to revive the Tar Sands and place the entire risk for transporting bitumen to market upon British Columbia. Permit me, sir, to correct myself. It is not risk that we’re dealing with but mathematical certainty.
Rendering of Woodfibre LNG project near Squamish, BC
The only question is how bad the damage will be. We are not being told the truth when industry and governments make it appear as if there is almost no chance of tanker collisions, either with each other or something else. One only has to chart the world statistics, which I happen to do, to know that that is absolutely untrue. Industry and your government make it appear that even if there are spills of bitumen that the cleanup facilities are such that there is nothing to worry about. That’s bullshit, sir, and you know it!
Booms intended to corral a fuel spill near Bella Bella are blown apart by stormy weather (Photo: Tavish Campbell)
We can read, we can watch television, we can hear what witnesses have to say. We know about the Enbridge/Kalamazoo spill in 2010 and we know that accident has not been cleaned up to this day and it’s unlikely that it ever will be. We know that in a very short time, bitumen sinks and no longer can be effectively cleaned up. We have also seen examples of the Christy Clark’s speedy “world-class cleanup” procedures at work and can only thank God that the spills were moderate considering the pathetic efforts at cleanup.
I don’t wish to carry on any further with that, Mr. Prime Minister, but I do want you to know, as I’m sure you do, that I scarcely speak for the people of British Columbia. Having said that, I believe that we’ve had enough. More than enough! We believe the right to our environment outweighs any so-called right to move dangerous goods over and through our province.
We say that our right to our environmentoutweighs any so-called right to move dangerous goods over and through our province. That, sir, is the essential difference in values that we possess and that you possess.
I believe that this is simply a fair assessment and a warning – not in any way a threat – but I can say that if you force the Kinder Morgan pipeline upon us, as you can with your money and your soldiers, you will create a rift between my province and Canada that will never, ever heal. Of course, I could be wrong on that but, sir, I’m not wrong to observe that would be a dreadful legacy to leave when, as with all of us, you must go. You no doubt believe you understand Canada – take my word for it, sir, I understand my province that I have served at the highest level and love every square millimetre of it.I have lived in several places and taken my fly rod with me to most others.
Mr. Trudeau, we love this province with all our hearts and souls and we’re not about to let you take it away from us.
The report is dated July 17, 1973, and stamped by the Department of the Environment.
Scientists had undertaken a study of fish in the Skeena estuary due to proposals to build a super port in the Prince Rupert area.
The federal government wanted to know: “What destructive consequences could be imparted on the fisheries resource by superport construction?”
So the scientists set out to find out which areas of the Skeena estuary — home to Canada’s second largest wild salmon run — are most important for fish.
They found Flora Bank, one of the largest eelgrass beds in B.C., is “of high biological significance as a fish (especially juvenile salmon) rearing habitat,” and advised that “construction of a superport at the Kitson Island — Flora Bank site would destroy much of this critical salmon habitat.”
Forty years passed, with the federal government knowing Flora Bank was no place for industrial development.
And then, this Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved the building of a massive liquefied natural gas export port in that very spot — a spot that scientists say would disrupt a complex system that effectively holds Flora Bank in place.
“I think the politics must have changed,” said Jonathan Moore, Liber Ero chair of Coastal Science and Management at Simon Fraser University. “All I can say is that as a scientist, the results haven’t changed. In fact, the data has gotten stronger.”
“Out of all the places that you could imagine in the area, it is the worst possible place in terms of risks to fish.”
You wouldn’t know that from reading the report commissioned by Pacific Northwest LNG and filed to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) on May 5, 2015. In that report, engineering firm Stantec argued there will be little to no environmental impact from building an LNG terminal on Lelu Island, next to Flora Bank.
That submission included no field data on fish, yet concluded that “salmon do not use Flora Bank eelgrass habitat for nursery habitat or other life dependent processes.”
Stantec was sent back to the drawing board three times to provide credible science.
The government and the proponent have never even acknowledged that the project is in important salmon habitat.
This kind of “bought science” represents a major conflict of interest and yet forms the foundation of the environmental assessment, Moore told DeSmog Canada.
“Ideally you’d have more of a third-party body that’s producing the science that underpins the decision-making,” he said.
Moore and his associates from Simon Fraser University and the Skeena Fisheries Commission submitted their own research during CEAA’s “comment period.”
About 300 million juvenile salmon rear in the Skeena estuary every year at the critical moment when they graduate from fresh to salt water. The Skeena salmon run is worth more than $110 million annually.
The abundance of salmon is part of the reason Lax Kw’alaams First Nation members overwhelmingly rejected a $1-billion cash offer over 40 years from Petronas, declining to give aboriginal consent to the project.
Unlike the Stantec research, Moore’s is peer-reviewed and has been published in scientific journals Science and PLOS.
“The proposal highlights a troubling blind spot in Canada’s environmental decision-making,” the article in Science reads.
“We have shown that the proposed development area supports particularly high abundances of juvenile salmon from more than 40 populations that are harvested in at least 10 First Nations territories throughout the Skeena watershed and beyond.”
For Moore, whose collaborators have sampled more than 200,000 fish during more than 100 days on the water, the science is clear.
“The data hits you on the head when you’re out there seeing it,” he said.
“Based on our most recent in-depth study where we compared 25 different habitats across the Skeena estuary … we found the Flora Bank area had 25 times more salmon than other locations.”
When the federal government announced its decision on Tuesday, Moore was disappointed — but more than anything, he was frustrated by the feds’ rhetoric about “evidence-based decision-making.”
“You read these statements that say this was based on science and no, it really wasn’t,” Moore said. “You used some science that was paid for, but you ignored an even larger body of science that was independent. You also ignored four decades of practice and knowledge from your own fisheries programs.”
“I understand that decisions aren’t about just the environment. I understand that the economy has to factor into that. But let’s not pretend. If there are great risks to the environment, let’s have full accounting and honest accounting of those risks.”
Transport Minister Marc Garneau recently confirmed that the federal government will be formalizing the Pacific north coast oil tanker moratorium within the next few months. Transport Canada has set up a website for the public to submit comments on the key issues to be addressed in the oil tanker moratorium.
Friends of Wild Salmon has heard that industry is pushing for no tanker ban at all, so comments from the public calling for a legislated, comprehensive and legislated moratorium are incredibly important.
Comments will be accepted until September 30, 2016. You will need to register in order to submit a comment, which simply involves entering your name, email address and the first three characters of your postal code, as well as creating a password.
Transport Canada has released a discussion paper that considers some of the issues. West Coast Environmental Law has published a FAQ document that outlines their views on the key aspects of the oil tanker ban. West Coast’s key points boil down to the following:
The oil tanker moratorium must be legislated by an Act of Parliament.
The legislated oil tanker moratorium must not contain a sunset clause or expiry date.
The legislated oil tanker moratorium must at minimum apply to all of Hecate Strait, Dixon Entrance and Queen Charlotte Sound, as set out by the Prime Minister in the Mandate Letter of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.
The legislated oil tanker moratorium must comprehensively prohibit ships carrying oil in bulk as cargo, while allowing necessary shipments of fuel to coastal communities.
A voluntary Tanker Exclusion Zone (TEZ), in place since the 1980s, has protected the West Coast from loaded oil tankers transiting from Alaska to the continental U.S. The Government of Canada has taken other important steps towards protecting the marine environment, such as mandatory double hulls for tankers and compulsory pilotage areas where pilots come aboard ships to guide them through challenging waterways. The Government now aims to formalize a crude oil tanker moratorium on British Columbia’s north coast.
We invite you to share your ideas about how we can formalize a moratorium to protect our waters and coastlines without losing economic benefits from shipping. You can read about Shipping in Canada, Canada’s Marine Safety System and considerations on a moratorium in our Discussion Paper.
Fish farms pollute the ocean, and expose wild salmon to deadly viruses. It is time to Legislate the removal of salmon farms from the ocean.
Why is this important?
Deadly diseases and viruses from fish farms are spreading to wild salmon, putting at risk thousands of jobs, entire First Nations cultures that rely on the wild salmon, the economy of BC and over 100 species that depend on wild salmon to survive.
Safer alternatives are available. It’s possible to farm fish on land, using closed-containment farming techniques that don’t pollute the ocean or jeopardize wild salmon stocks.The companies say it is too expensive for them to deal with their own wastes, but allowing them to pollute our oceans with disease is too expensive for society.
Prime Minister Trudeau gave Fisheries Minister LeBanc a mandate to use the best science to protect wild fish in Canada. Minister LeBlanc ignored this mandate by granting the industry long term licences on July 1, 2016 despite legal and scientific evidence that salmon farms are dangerous to wild salmon. Many scientists worldwide are raising alarm about open-net fish farms, but the multi-national fish farming companies have convinced government their dirty industry is safe.
If enough of us sign this petition, we can make our voices louder than the multi-national fish farming companies, and win a legislated ban on open-net salmon farming. This would force the salmon farming industry to grow up and clean up and it would allow us to restore wild salmon. This benefits everyone.
The Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw in collaboration with Sea Shepherd and Alexandra Morton call for your support as we, in assertion of our indigenous rights, deliver a message to remove fish farms from our traditional territories to the governments of British Columbia and Canada.
Delegates T’łat’łagwoł (Melissa Willie), Chief Okwilagame (Willie Moon), K’wak’wabalas (Ernest Alfred) & Chief Waxawidi (William Wasden Jr) will be departing with the crew of the R/V Martin Sheen & Alexandra Morton from Campbell River, Monday August 29th, 1:00 pm
The ship will stopover in the following locations (times may change depending on conditions) :
Comox – Tuesday, August 30th 11:00 am All locations to be determined! Please check back! Thanks!!!
Nanaimo – Wednesday, August 31st 3:00 pm
Victoria Inner Harbour – Saturday, September 3rd 1:00 pm
Vancouver – Monday, September 5th 1:00 pm
We request your support to unite in solidarity with all indigenous nations, who also face industrial exploitation of their ancestral territories, to come and add your voice to these rallies.
“The wild salmon connect all of us, they migrate through all of our territories. We depend on it. So let’s link arms and come together. I also ask British Columbians, I know a lot of you don’t agree with fish farming – link arms with us!” Chief Ol’ Siwid (Mike Willie)
The Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw in collaboration with Sea Shepherd and Alexandra Morton call for your support as we, in assertion of our indigenous rights, deliver a message to remove fish farms from our traditional territories to the governments of British Columbia and Canada. Click here for f/b event description…..
Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc visited West Vancouver on Tuesday to provide an update on the federal government’s response to the Cohen Commission report on protecting B.C. salmon. Here are five things you need to know about this development:
What is this all about?
The 2012 report from the judicial inquiry, headed by retired judge Bruce Cohen, made 75 recommendations for reversing the decline of sockeye salmon along the Fraser River. It addressed issues such as commercial fisheries and scientific research, as well as the highly contentious question of how fish farming impacts wild sockeye.
LeBlanc’s update details the Department of Fisheries and Ocean’s progress on each of those recommendations.
What has already been done?
The ministry says it has implemented 32 of the Cohen recommendations in whole or in part. Several are points DFO says it was already doing — things like acting “in accordance with its paramount regulatory objective to conserve wild fish” and collecting data on how salmon farming impacts the health of wild fish. Some recommended research programs have also become realities, while the government says more funding is necessary to support others.
Sockeye migration routes are now being considered when the DFO approves locations of new salmon farms, and Ottawa has stopped issuing new licences for net-pen aquaculture operations in the Discovery Islands, near Campbell River.
What’s still to come?
Several recommendations called on the government to improve how it tracks the health of salmon populations, or at least bring its programs back up to the standards set in 2010. That has yet to happen for things like a test fisheries program in the Fraser River and initiatives that monitor river levels, temperatures and illegal fishing.
Meanwhile, research is underway to determine how fish farms in the Discovery Islands impact the health of wild salmon. If those aquaculture operations pose more than “minimal risk of serious harm,” the commission report called on Ottawa to shut the farms down by Sept. 30, 2020.
DFO was asked to produce a detailed plan in 2013 explaining how it will implement Canada’s Policy for Conservation of Wild Pacific Salmon, which dates back to 2005. The plan was supposed to include a breakdown of responsibilities and costs, as well as a timeline for completing each task, but it has yet to materialize. Consultation on the implementation plan is expected to get underway this year.
The lack of a plan means that there have been delays in acting on a handful of other recommendations, including a number of salmon habitat assessments that were expected by the end of 2013. A risk assessment on the impact of farmed salmon on sockeye at sea was also expected the same year, but research is still underway.
What won’t happen?
Salmon farming is a sticking point. The Cohen Commission had asked the DFO to no longer promote fish farming, but the ministry argues that is part of its mandate.
Ottawa has also declined to create a new, senior-level position accountable for policy around wild salmon, claiming it would be too expensive to justify. Instead, the job of putting wild salmon policy into action will be folded into the responsibilities of an existing manager.