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article imageBC fishermen: no indication Shea ready to act on Salmon crisis

By Stephanie Dearing     Sep 12, 2009 in Environment
The loss of an estimated 9 million fish from this season's Sockeye Salmon spawning run in British Columbia spells future trouble for the salmon fishery. Fishermen are anxious but the Canadian government is still not saying anything about the situation.
Canada's Minister of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which oversees the Salmon fisheries, has been criticized for having been 'missing in action' when it became apparent that the Sockeye salmon were not returning like they were supposed to. Gail Shea met with B.C. representatives from the various groups that rely on Sockeye salmon for their livelihoods on September 11th.
The representatives pressed the idea that there is a crisis in the Sockeye fishery. One of those representatives was Grand Chief Doug Kelly, with the B.C. First Nations Fisheries Council. Kelly came out of the meeting saying he was concerned that Shea "did not grasp the seriousness of the issue." The Grand Chief is worried that the west coast First Nations people who rely on Sockeye salmon for food will go hungry this winter. Kelly said that there was "no indication" that Shea was "ready to act," and also expressed concern for the quickness of fisheries officials to express support for aquafisheries. B.C.'s salmon fish farms are getting the brunt of the blame for the decline of the Sockeye runs.
Demand for the Sockeye Salmon, reputed to be one of the best-tasting of the five different species of Pacific salmon, is high. Restaurants, fish markets and grocery stores want to provide their customers with the fish, and there is a little fresh Sockeye available, but not much. The Sockeye Salmon fishing industry has been devastated in the U.S.A. and Canada with the loss of some 9 million fish. Estimates for this year's number of fish making the spawning run range from 6 to 7% of the number of fish that went out to sea years ago.
The Fraser River in British Columbia is the largest Salmon river in the world, and is said to be strictly policed. This sockeye fishery, along with the Skeena River in B.C. have been closed to salmon fishing since mid-August, when it became apparent that the estimated 8.7 million salmon that left their spawning grounds in 2005 to mature in the Pacific ocean did not return as adults. Less than 1 million, or 1 out of every 10 Sockeye returned in August.
Some Canadian academics and a number of environmentalists have been blaming fish lice for the devastating loss of Sockeye. The newly born salmon, hatched in their in-land non-salt water breeding grounds, head out to the ocean to mature. En route to the ocean, many immature salmon must pass by fish farms, said to be mainly owned by Norwegians, which float in the Georgian Strait off the coast of British Columbia. A biologist, Alexandra Morton, directly linked the fish farms with impacts on salmon, pointing out that species such as the Pink, are strong - but they did not have to pass near a fish farm. The farms are magnets for the troublesome parasite, sea lice, and the farms have struggled with the parasite for years.
Other possible causes for the decline include the warming of ocean waters, and a possible lack of the food Sockeye traditionally eat. The problem is that nobody knows exactly what has caused this sudden and unexpected catastrophic collapse of the Sockeye fishery. Other salmon species, particularly the Pink Salmon, seem to be doing extremely well this year. The loss of the salmon has not affected the Port Aberni Salmon Festival, which is a fishing derby that took place for three days, ending on September 7th. Conservationists might be concerned that the Port Aberni fishing derby website neglects to say anything about the devastation to the salmon run on which the festival relies.
B.C. fishermen are reluctant to write off business just yet, because the last two years were also terrible for the industry.
The federal government has not yet announced any compensation for the west coast fisheries, which employs 52,000 people and is worth millions in both Canada and the U.S.A. Losses in the U.S. for last year's salmon season was estimated at $22 million. The U.S. is compensating its fishermen for the loss of revenues this year.
More about Gail shea, Grand chief doug kelly, Alexandra morton, Sockeye salmon, Salmon
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