It’s the International Year of the Salmon! That means this is a year to celebrate this truly miraculous creature! Salmon are an integral part of the fabric of society in BC, bringing enormous cultural, social, economic, nutritional, and environmental value to this place. Salmon face many threats in our modern world, but humans have coexisted with salmon for millennia, and we can continue to do so for many more.
It’s our responsibility to protect our salmon in perpetuity and to ensure that they flourish for generations to come. And we are optimistic that raising awareness of the real threats to salmon, shedding light on the imagined threats, and fighting for policy change will allow us to continue to enjoy the many benefits salmon offer for generations to come!
In BC, we are blessed with 5 species of wild salmon. Their incredible life cycle starts in streams and rivers in nearly every corner of our province. Each species spends a different amount of its early stages in fresh water, from just a few weeks to several years. Salmon travel to the ocean and spend anywhere from 2–4 years as far out in the Pacific as nearly half-way to Japan! Then, like hard-core trail runners, they swim their way back upstream, jumping up rivers and dodging predators, exerting enormous effort to return to the stream of their birth. With GPS-like accuracy that puts google maps to shame, they return to within metres of where they hatched. Here they lay or fertilize eggs…and die immediately afterwards1. I’ve always thought this was so dramatic and romantic! Am I right?
Salmon populations can increase when they are fished responsibly. It’s part of an intricate dance of interdependence. Once spawning beds are full of fertilized eggs, subsequent spawners will not increase numbers of salmon in that year. According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), there is only so much space in spawning beds. So higher numbers of returning fish will not necessarily increase the salmon population.
When salmon fishing is carefully managed, it can potentially improve the survival rates of spawners2. The impact fishermen have on salmon populations is like that of apex predators2, and if apex predators are removed from any ecosystem, the results can be disastrous. Overfishing is not the biggest threat to BC’s salmon populations and we can indeed both fish for wild salmon AND increase their numbers at the same time.
Some Challenges Faced by Salmon
Habitat destruction due to other resource extraction industries, disease from salmon farms, and climate change are just some of the new challenges our salmon face today. Rising sea temperatures threaten the survival of many species, especially sockeye, which are highly sensitive to even the smallest increase in water temperature in rivers, streams, and oceans.
People are increasingly concerned about the survival of our resident orca whale population. Chinook salmon in the Salish Sea, the primary food source of these endangered orcas1, are diminishing and you’ll often hear people questioning if we should even be eating salmon. Read our blog post about why we never have and never will compete with endangered orcas for their primary food source.
Growing global populations have a seemingly insatiable appetite for salmon, and 90% of Canadian seafood is sold to global export markets, putting enormous pressure on just a few runs of some of our most vulnerable yet highest-dollar value salmon – sockeye and chinook.
Eating with the Ecosystem
But what if we did things differently? What if we ate with the ecosystem – ate only salmon that were abundant and well-managed each year – to ensure salmon populations thrive? Skipper Otto members pre-purchase a share in the catch and then entrust fishing families with the responsibility to catch only what the ecosystem provides in abundance.
This year the DFO is trying to protect at-risk chinook populations by reducing fishing for them1. When fishing closures will help protect an at-risk run, our members understand that’s just part of eating with the ecosystem! And there are plenty of other abundant salmon choices available this year. This year our members will largely forego chinook and eat from one of the other 4 species that are most viable this season. And they’ll know exactly where each piece of seafood was caught, when, how, and by whom.
As humans, we are capable of being responsible apex predators in a delicate and well-managed ecosystem. And community supported fisheries can provide a roadmap for successful coexistence between people and salmon for generations to come.
- Salmon Facts, Pacific Salmon, Chinook. Department of Fisheries & Oceans, Government of Canada.
- Evolutionary consequences of fishing and their implications for salmon. The National Center for Biotechnology Information. Jeffrey J Hard, Mart R Gross, Mikko Heino, Ray Hilborn, Robert G Kope, Richard Law, and John D Reynolds. May 1, 2008.
Sonia - June 21, 2019
We Depend on Salmon and They Depend on Us
Sonia - June 21, 2019