British Columbia’s salmon populations are in trouble, in some regions more than others. Although salmon stocks in qathet have substantially decreased, our fish are doing much better than salmon in the Fraser, Thompson, and Skeena rivers -just to name a few.
Why locally, are our salmon populations doing better than other rivers in BC, even when our stocks are considered low?
Part of this is because the Powell River Salmon Society (PRSS) boosted our local fish count by introducing chinook salmon into Lang Creek 35 years ago. In fact, one third of all of BC’s chinook salmon today can be traced back to the enhancement program here at the Lang Creek, Catalyst Mill, and Duck Lake hatchery.
“We do this thanks to the donors and volunteers. It’s a community victory,” sais Salmon Society manager Shane Dobler.
Introducing more salmon species for a diverse run is important. Looking after the watershed the salmon inhabit is also important for both the fish and environment to thrive. That is what Tla’amin Nation is focusing on (see Part I, October issue of qathet Living).
“For the past 20 years, we have done bi-weekly sampling of our watershed to monitor for changes to the water quality or pollutants,” says Salmon Society assistant manager Philip Nakatsu. “Each year we provide a report so our local watershed users and the public can be aware of any issues affecting our salmon bearing streams.”
To help others and future generations learn about the importance of our pacific salmon, the PRSS has been providing hands-on salmon education for elementary schools for years. Although this style of learning had to change during COVID, the Society adapted to this and launched a classroom educational program on their website. Philip says the program is aimed at providing tangible result-based learning using modern technology to help educate children on salmon habitat stewardship and life cycle.
“We are in the process of modernizing and updating the salmon education program by using video streaming, green technology, and online resources to reach a new generation of salmon champions,” says Philip.
In an effort to help the regions in British Columbia save their salmon populations, the Pacific Salmon Foundation funded 114 different projects across BC this year to help the salmon populations.
For one, more research has been put into Smallmouth Bass, an invasive species here in BC. These fish feed on juvenile salmon, working against enhancement.
Climate change adaptation is also getting attention. The Pacific Salmon Foundation has funded over $1.2 million for ‘grassroots project grants’ within 66 different communities.
What can the rest of British Columbia do to help the salmon?
“I think we need to do a better job of allocating our resources and expecting measurable results for the resources put in,” says Philip.
Philip says that fishery and conservation departments have lots of funding flowing through them. “Most of that funding is channeled into a stagnant bureaucracy that is content to hand out 1-800 phone numbers to manage problems and fund recurring cycles of studies,” Philip says.
“We need to focus on supporting measurable and result-based ‘boots on the ground’ projects that are focused on solving problems and not just checking boxes.
“The best way to ensure healthy salmon in freshwater is to be mindful of riparian zones around salmon bearing streams and creeks,” says Philp. Riparian zones are areas around the river, such as a bank, where plants and animals live.
“Riparian vegetation is a natural shade for the creek, is the most effective way to keep creek temperatures cool, and a practical way to combat climate change concerns in our watershed,” Philip says. “Powell River has a wealth of freshwater reserves, which has allowed our fish to survive many warm summers, where other salmon bearing streams have suffered.
“The challenge will be to maintain our water reserves as the city grows, as our city water source is also a tributary for our largest salmon-bearing creek (Lang Creek). We also must be careful at how we manage mid-trophic level fish, like herring. They are what hold our ocean ecosystem together.”
It is because of all these efforts from the Salmon Society that Powell River’s fish populations manage to stay strong, although many other areas struggle.
“Even when populations in the rest of the province dip, our area gets lumped into blanket closures. The secret to Powell River’s success is generous financial support and over 10, 000 hours annually of volunteer time to the PRSS’s enhancement efforts.” This support is what allows the Salmon Society programs to release up to 1.9 million wild salmon smolts back into regional waters each year.
“Over the past 40 years the salmon returns to Lang Creek have gone up on average. We know this to be fact because we painstakingly count every fish that returns each year and do not rely on estimates like most other systems do,” Philip says.
The Lang Creek hatchery has a counting fence near the mouth of the river, this keeps the fish from going upstream, giving volunteers the time to count the fish. If the fish are not moving it is difficult to count them all, to counter this the Salmon Society invested in several different cameras that help them count up the fish and can notify when the fish are moving more, helping give accurate counts.
“It’s our hope, if enough coastal communities use this blueprint, we can make real and lasting change the outlook of British Columbia’s pacific salmon population.”
These immense efforts made by the Powell River Salmon Society are done on a shoestring. Over 50 percent of the Society’s budget is fundraised locally. A little under 50 percent comes from the government, an amount that hasn’t changed since 1982. Recently, the Honorable Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Bernadette Jordan announced that $647 million dollars of the federal budget would be put into saving the pacific wild salmon in BC.
So how much of this is going to Local Salmon Enhancement Programs that prove to work extremely well, such as the Powell River Salmon Society?
As of right now, that is a mystery. Shane explained that the funding is most likely going to studies, but he really doesn’t know.
Bernadette Jordan has lost her seat in parliament in the last election.
Hopefully the new Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, MP Joyce Murray, will be able to answer this question.
Abby Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, qathet Living