Shame on Shames

My former colleague and occasional fishing companion, Richard Eckert, came walking up my front path yesterday. He handed me a poster advertising that on November 30th, he will be showing some of his pictures at a slideshow to be held in the Cafenara Coffee House from 10 in the morning until six at night. He’s accepting donations that will be going to the Stepping Stones Centre. So go and give generously.

It was good to see Richard. I’ve known him since the time he and his wife, Heather, were newly arrived teachers from Stewart, a time before their kids, who are now adults nearing middle age now, were born.

Rich and I taught at Cassie Hall, he music, and I grade seven, during the final years of the Derrick V. (Rick) Shaw era. It’s hazy now, but I may have given him his first fly rod. Whether I did or not, I did steer him in the direction of a glass fibre pole that he fished for decades before it expired recently. After that calamity, I gave him a Ron Grantham bamboo rod to replace it. The pole doesn’t get much action these days, he admitted, as most of Rich’s outside time is divided between skiing, canoeing, and photography.

I told him that I understood. Combining photography with fishing is awkward. If your aim is to take excellent pictures, the best course is to leave the rod at home and concentrate on doing that. If angling is your objective, I’ve found it best to leave the camera at home and focus on the fishing.

With his camera at his side, Richard has made some lengthy canoe trips down the rivers of the Yukon, a few of them solo. With the stealth a canoe confers, he has been able to get some extraordinary wildlife shots along with the magnificent view scapes that this truly wild country has to offer.

Rich and I share a few cherished fishing spots where, from time to time, our paths cross. One of those places is the lower Shames River. As we talked, he mentioned that he’d recently crossed the Shames and seen a pair of backhoes working the two hundred or so yards above and below the Shames Rail Bridge.

They’ve done it before, I said, recalling the time, over twenty years ago, when Finlay and I watched what must have amounted to a hundred humpbacks dig nests in the gravel below and above the rust coloured span. We returned a few weeks later to find only the desiccated remnants of a few of those spawners lying on the banks. I returned that fall to find that same prime egg-laden gravel had been dredged out of the stream and was now piled up atop the parking lot.

There was a Steelhead Society meeting a couple of nights after that. Two fisheries officers were in attendance. I told them what I had witnessed. They looked uncomfortable. Considering that what I’d seen was an egregious violation of the Fisheries Act, I expected something would be done about it. Nothing ever was.

That rail bridge has supported trains since it was built at the beginning of The Great War. For sixty years afterwards, there was no problem. Then came the logging of the valley upstream. The planning behind the plunder of the Shames’ forest cover was typical of the primitive, short-term strategy that was in vogue then and was inflicted upon so many of the river valleys in this country. The river bottom became unhinged and was set in motion. As a result of this, there were debris torrents. At the bottom end of the river, where the grade lessens, gravel built up to the point where the multinational rail corporation bearing a Canadian name began to fear the old bridge would be washed out.

Rotten corporate citizen that it is, CN decided to hire some hoe operators and dredge the egg-laden gravel, presumably because this was the cheapest route to take. They might have built a bridge, in fact, they should’ve been required to build a bridge by the DFO. In the years between that catastrophe and this year, the area in question may have been excavated again, but this year was the worst of all years to do it.

Based on a few carcasses he saw, Richard believes there may have been a few pinks in the Shames this year. His assessment matches mine. How much dredging has contributed to the plight of the Shames’ humpies is impossible to say, but, considering that the pinks returning to Shames was probably a few thousand in the best of recent years, it could have been devastating to them. This year, it may have been the final blow.

After Richard left, I drove to Shames and surveyed the damage. It was extensive.

Machines have no place in salmon streams in the fall, and should only be tolerated in such places during times of dire emergency.

Did the Department of Fisheries sanction this? If not, charges need to be laid and heavy fines levied against the CN.

If so, whoever gave the OK has shown themselves to be completely ignorant of the Shames ecosystem, and unworthy to be a steward of the resource, and should be fired.

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