Tough time for sockeye salmon

It is hard to believe more than half a century has passed since Bob Dylan penned the lyrics to The Times They Are A Changing

It is hard to believe more than half a century has passed since Bob Dylan penned the lyrics to The Times They Are A Changing.

I was a teenager who, like so many of my generation, thought they could change the world. The world has indeed changed since those long ago days, but less so because of the efforts of my generation than in spite of them. Just as a side-thought, I wonder what it would be like to go fishing with Bob Dylan. What might we talk about?

I do know that fishing was pretty good this past fall on the Adams River, and that was in spite of the fact there were not a lot of returning salmon. How many times over the past 50 years have I stood on the banks of the Adams and watched returning sockeye complete the inevitable and eternal part of their life cycle? Returning salmon must make their way past many a hurtle on the Fraser before reaching their spawning grounds along the Adams. Which brings me to one of the points I would like to make about how the times they are a changing. I no longer fish for salmon. There are too few salmon and there are too many hurtles in their way – not just in returning to their spawning grounds, but in their very survival as a species.

It just seems as though each and every fall, Fisheries and Oceans Canada comes out with the same old, tired statement that they “have some serious concerns” about the Fraser River sockeye runs.

They really need to come up with a plan, maybe even one based on the recommendations put forward in the Cohen Commission’s report, before it is too late. We shall see.

While returning sockeye numbers on the Fraser are in steady decline, each year an estimated 10 million pink salmon enter the Fraser River system. Which brings me to another point I would like to make: I have eaten salmon smoked, candied, barbecued, poached and just about every other way they can be prepared. I enjoy eating salmon every bit as much as I used to enjoy fishing for them. Sockeye salmon stocks are in trouble, so should we not be looking at pinks as an alternative to the sockeye?

In the past couple of years, the B. C. Salmon Marketing Council has made a major push to promote salmon species other than sockeye, most notably pinks and chum. Sockeye salmon may be more desirable in some ways to pinks or chum. A lot depends on people’s perception which, in turn, is based on what they ‘believe’ to be more desirable and what advertisers tell consumers is more desirable. On a positive note, some of B.C.’s top restaurants are now listing pink salmon on their menus.

On a less than positive note, however, while B.C.’s salmon catches are in steady decline, countries such as Russia, Japan and Alaska have been experiencing bumper harvests.

All the while, the list of seafood options for consumers continues to grow, including farmed salmon and less-expensive fish species such as hake, which is now taken in large numbers off the coast of B.C. Many of the larger grocery chains also offer consumers fish such as bass (Pangasius bocourti), a type of catfish native to Indochina, and something called tilapia – I couldn’t even tell you what a tilapia looks like never mind where it comes from.

The problem is, as consumers, half the time we don’t even know what we are eating. In packaging, Hake is sometimes labeled as “halibut family.” Hake is not a member of the halibut family. Wild Pacific salmon, which certainly seems more appealing than ‘farmed fish’ is, in fact, chum salmon caught off the waters of northeast Japan, frozen and processed in China. One thing for sure is that international fishing and processing practices are only adding to the problems of the fishery here in B.C. Fisheries and Oceans really does need to come up with a proper plan. One that will help Fraser River sockeye numbers increase while not putting unnecessary pressure on other fish stocks.

I won’t even get into whole situation regarding halibut stocks in waters off our Northwest Coast. That is another column altogether. And then there are the potential problems with oil tankers navigating those same coastal waters.

The times are indeed a changing, and the reality of those changes is that something needs to be done about fish stocks in both our Coastal and Interior waters before it is too late.


Salmon Arm Observer