Official fish

This week our columnist Rob Brown tackles the BC Liberal's plan to name the salmon the province's official fish

So, I read in the Vancouver Sun, on-line edition, (because, I’ve become technologically hip) that the Neo-Conservative Liberal Party of BC has introduced legislation that will confer the official fish designation upon the salmon. Unbeknownst to the fish, they will soon become a provincial emblem.


Now, I have to admit that I wasn’t onside when the Liberals arranged to have the Stellar’s Jay given Bird of the Province status. The appearance of the jay is stellar, I’m forced to admit, but its grating call, a cross of terrier and crow, is annoying.

I would have chosen the Herring Gull for its resilience, or, maybe, the varied thrush for its subtle beauty, its understated unvarying call, and its ability to endure all seasons and all weathers without complaint.

But, that’s me.

The salmon on the other hand is an excellent choice of creature to bear the provincial standard. Looking for a B.C. brand, one simply couldn’t do better than salmon. In B.C., salmon are the heart of the matter.

Historically, salmon have been the hub of the wheel. For First Nations they were food and currency, absolutely and undeniably their cultural core. Without salmon they would have perished, and when European immigrants altered the First Nations’ traditional ways of interacting with salmon, they almost did.

When it comes to their environmental importance, salmon are the key to the kingdom. Apex predators – grizzly, wolves, and seals; avian scavengers – eagles, ravens, gulls, ducks, and crows; their fishy neighbours – char, trout, whitefish, sculpins,  and lamprey; all owe their overall health (and in some cases survival) to salmon flesh.

I remember a day, late in the year, years ago, jetting up the Gitnadoix in the front of Mike Whelpley’s rubber boat. We were looking for fish. We glided over reach after reach with no sign of life. Then in the midst of the solitude, off in the distance, we made out eagles in trees. When we reached the base of those trees, we saw the tracks of wolves and bears in the newly fallen snow, and in the river, under the banks that bore those tracks, there were salmon, old dark salmon, the remnant of that years’ run. That moment was a vivid demonstration of the magnetism of salmon and their importance to the natural world.

The BC Liberals have finally come to their senses, I thought.

But, wait.

If you recognize the importance of wild Pacific Salmon to our province, doesn’t it follow that you would have treated them with respect? The BC Liberals allowed the dredging of prime salmon spawning gravel in the Fraser River near Chilliwack under the pretext of flood control.

Salmon need homes and nurseries, but wasn’t it the BC Liberal Party with its “growth is good” ethos that has promoted development (in particular waterfront development) at great cost to wildlife habitat.

The Ministry of Environment, fisheries division, is entrusted by law to be stewards of salmonids. Yet the same Liberal Party of BC has seen to it that body has been marginalized, underfunded, gutted, and all but neutralized when it comes to doing its job.

Close to home, we have a number of pipelines that will have to cross numerous salmon streams. Shouldn’t we expect the party promoting salmon as the provincial fish to ensure that a thorough impact assessment of each crossing be done by government staff, or that, at the very least, all assessments done by private contractors are reviewed by our employees in the ministry before any development goes ahead? Not happening.

And, wasn’t it the Liberals that against public opinion, scientific and historical evidence – and the sad experience of numerous countries throughout the world – imported exotic salmon to this coast and established net pen salmon farming knowing that doing so would introduce millions of tonnes of pollution into invaluable marine habitat while killing the ultra productive and irreplaceable ocean floor?

And, wasn’t it the same Liberals, with  ample evidence from around the globe that sea lice outbreaks go hand in glove with salmon farms and that sea lice imperil wild salmon, caused the same problem to our coast?

I can’t think of one single instance where our Liberal government under Campbell or Clark did one single thing for wild Pacific Salmon, which leads me to  conclude that they are exceedingly cynical, or that by making salmon the provincial fish, they must mean Atlantic Salmon.