A fisherman throws sockeye into a bin to be weighed at Kanaka Landing in Maple Ridge during the first commercial opening of the season along the Fraser River Monday.

A fisherman throws sockeye into a bin to be weighed at Kanaka Landing in Maple Ridge during the first commercial opening of the season along the Fraser River Monday.

COLUMN: B.C. Salmon need protection

Dwindling numbers could spell trouble for province

The annual run of salmon – returning to the Fraser River to go to a myriad of spawning channels all over B.C. – is one of the most iconic and awe-inspiring symbols of this province.

Unfortunately, with the rapid urbanization of the Lower Mainland (including cities like Surrey and Delta), many urban residents have no personal connection to the river, its fish or the people who fish for them.

Nor do they understand the vital, historic and even spiritual connection between B.C.’s First Nations and the salmon.

They do not know the importance of the salmon run, and the threats the returning fish have faced in the past, and continue to face right now.

Accounts from the first Europeans who came into contact with First Nations here speak of the staggering number of returning fish.

This occurred each year – not every four years, as is the case today with the major sockeye run – and was the most important factor in the thriving economy and well-developed culture of coastal First Nations people, and indeed of many in the interior.

The gigantic runs continued into the early 20th century, and led to the  establishment of a huge salmon fishery and numerous canneries, including some along the Fraser in Delta and Surrey. Communities like Annieville along the Fraser River thrived, and people involved in the industry, from shore workers to fishers and cannery owners, prospered.

One of the greatest blows to the fishery occurred in 1913, when blasting by the Canadian Northern Railway in the Fraser Canyon changed the river flow near Hell’s Gate, and prevented a massive number of fish from making their way to upstream spawning grounds.

The fishery has never fully recovered from that blow, although the 2010 run was the biggest since that year.

But even into the 1980s, there were continued significant runs, not just of sockeye, but also of coho (now in significant trouble), chinook, chum and pink.

There were still a lot of people involved in the fishing industry. The United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union was a force in local labour circles, and the NDP in North Delta had an annual salmon barbecue and fundraiser each summer.

The event I attended at Sunbury Hall about 30 years ago rates, for me, as the best meal I have ever enjoyed at a political fundraiser.

The fact that former premier Dave Barrett, the most spellbinding orator on the provincial scene in the past half-century, was guest speaker also made it a memorable occasion.

Damage to spawning streams, in both urban and rural areas, combined with ocean temperature changes and other unknown factors have significantly hurt the salmon runs in the past 20 years.

A small commercial opening took place for sockeye on Monday, and there will be other openings, but the fish are still under enormous pressure.

That’s why news of a mine tailings pond collapse into the Quesnel River system on Aug. 4 hit like such a body blow. A large number of sockeye are headed that way.

Whether they will be impacted isn’t yet clear, but even the potential for a major kill of spawning fish makes many people very angry.

People in Surrey and Delta need to think about the importance of the salmon runs to our province.

Salmon aren’t just good for eating, they are an important economic and cultural symbol of this  province.

As long as the salmon keep coming back to the Fraser and other major rivers like the Skeena, B.C. will be an environmentally healthy place.

If they stop coming back, or the runs dwindle to almost nothing, we are in big trouble.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Delta character - and former White Rock resident - Pansy May Stuttard inspects a loaded revolver in the cover photo for Jim Dwight and Gary Cullen’s fascinating biography, Lord don’t want me Devil won’t take me. Contributed photo
West Coast’s ‘Pistol-packin’ Pansy’ lives on in colourful biography

Infamous Delta character ended her days in White Rock and South Surrey

A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary. March 2021. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Reports of student attendance ‘dwindling’ at Surrey schools: teachers’ association

STA president said he’s heard from staff that students might not attend in-person for 4th quarter

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

Chilliwack Search and Rescue volunteers say that a call on April 17 on Vedder Mountain was affected by bikers who rode through the rescue site, throwing rocks onto members and the patient. (Chilliwack Search and Rescue image)
Chilliwack Search and Rescue team, and patient, sprayed with rocks and dirt during rescue

Volunteer crew speaks out after riders on Vedder Mountain show no courtesy at accident scene

File photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
One man dead after shooting in Downtown Vancouver

This is Vancouver’s fifth homicide of the year

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country's crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of April 18

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Most Read