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New coalition formed to save B.C. salmon from extinction

First Nations Fisheries Council calls for all hands on deck approach to crisis
Jordan Point, left, and Michelle Corfield of the FNFC illustrate status of B.C. salmon with two bowls of SOS buttons -- the left one representing salmon abundance in the 1970s, and a near-empty bowl representing current stocks

The First Nations Fisheries Council of B.C. and non-aboriginal partners, including the Pacific Salmon Foundation, today launched a campaign to save wild salmon from extinction.

The coalition is calling for an all-hands-on deck response to the crisis of declining wild salmon stocks in B.C.

While members of the coalition acknowledged the funding both federal and provincial governments have pledged recently to rebuilding wild salmon stocks, they said it will take more than just government funding to halt the decline of Pacific salmon in B.C.

“This cannot be left to the hands of politicians,” said Michelle Corfield, a founding member of the First Nations Fisheries Council. “This cannot be left to the hands of an election cycle. We call upon you – British Columbians – to step forward to stop the extinction of wild Pacific salmon.”

The Save Our Salmon Coalition aims to work collaboratively with First Nations, senior governments, industry and other stakeholders, down to the grassroots level, to save wild salmon, which have been in decline for decades now, and in serious decline for more than a decade.

“We’re getting closer, over the last number of years, to losing this iconic species,” said FNFC executive director Jordan Point.

“We know that the population of Pacific salmon has actually decreased by over 90 per cent since the 1970s. This is in spite of increases of restrictions on fishing and lots of other work that people have done to try to halt the decline.

“The current outlook is extremely dire. It is our ambition to work collaboratively to protect and to restore salmon populations in British Columbia.”

Salmon are especially important to First Nations, both as a food source and as part of their identity and culture.

“For First Nations communities on the West Coast of British Columbia, salmon are a pillar of our culture and society,” said Hugh Braker, president of the First Nations Fisheries Council of BC.

“Our culture will be threatened if salmon are threatened. I cannot imagine the cultures of the West Coast people without salmon. It’s not only one of the most important foods of First Nations people, it’s the most important part of our culture.”

“First Nations want to work with non-First Nation communities throughout British Columbia in order that we can try to rebuild those stocks.”

Partners in the Save Our Salmon Coalition include the Pacific Salmon Foundation, the Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance, and HeliCat Canada, the coalition's first business sponsor.

Mike Meneer, CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation, pointed to “models of collaboration” in Washington State that include federal, state and tribal governments that have had some success in stabilizing declining wild salmon stocks there.

“At the centre of all of them is indigenous leadership,” Meneer said.

He acknowledged “huge new investments” from both the B.C. and federal governments for programs like the B.C. Salmon Restoration Innovation Fund and the Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative.

“We appreciate these investments, and today’s coalition announcement really is to invite Crown, indigenous governments and stakeholders like ours to come together to forge a new way to work together," Meneer said.

“What we’ve heard from First Nations collectively is that we don’t need separate plans,” Braker said. “We don’t need a federal plan, we don’t need a provincial plan. We need to be working together.

“We’re going to be really pushing levels of government to work collaboratively to bring energies both in the marine environment and the terrestrial side together to look at the whole life cycle of salmon so we can do this collectively.”

Point said the coalition wants to work with BC Hydro, forestry and mining companies, railway operators and the owners of pipelines – anyone who has an impact on watersheds -- to try to get their cooperation on protecting and enhancing salmon habitat.

Some environmental factors contributing to a decline of B.C. salmon may be out of anyone's control -- climate change, for example, which appears to be behind higher ocean temperatures that may be having impacts on the food web. But there are things that can be done to protect and enhance salmon habitat to at least give them a fighting chance.

Meneer pointed to habitat restoration on east-central Vancouver Island, where eelgrass beds are being re-established, as one example of things that can be done to improve the chances of juvenile salmon surviving and thriving before migrating to the open ocean.

“There are things we can do with habitat, with educating the next generation of young people,” Meneer said. “There’s so much we can do to turn the needle for salmon. A lot of that can happen at the grassroots.”

Businesses and organizations interested in supporting the coalition can visit the Save Our Salmon webpage.

In 2009, a return of only 1.4 million sockeye to the Fraser River was deemed so low as to be called a collapse and triggered the Cohen Commission of Inquiry. Fraser River sockeye seemed to be on their way to recovery in 2010, when there was a record return of 28 million fish. But since then, they have, on the whole, been generally declining in number for more than a decade now. In 2020, only 398,000 sockeye returned to the Fraser River -- a record low.

Other salmon species in B.C. have also been in general decline. A recent study, for example, has estimated that chum salmon on the central coast of B.C. have declined in abundance, overall, by 90 per cent since 1960.

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