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Fight for Our Fish!

Now is the critical time to rise to the defence of salmon habitat.

Rafe Mair 25 May 2009TheTyee.ca

Rafe Mair writes a Monday column for The Tyee. Read previous columns by Rafe Mair here. He also acts as a spokesperson for the Save Our Rivers Society.

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Did election ratify their extinction?

A song of my youth went "the music stopped... but we were still dancing..." The sad message was that you lingered on after the reason to do so had ended, just as some of us feel after seeing our continued involvement in saving fish a questionable strategy after the voters gave Premier Campbell the right to continue destroying our fish as a governmental initiative.

Sadly, the provincial election just passed was, in part, won on the backs of the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans' long-time decision to test and look busy but never to interfere.

We have to face the facts. The wild salmon is on a clear and certain path to extinction and we gave the Campbell government a mandate to continue down the path to this melancholy conclusion. Campbell was greatly assisted by the 50 per cent of us who didn’t vote on May 12.

They are, of course, allied to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, who continue to research and test that which doesn't need researching or testing anymore, while never enforcing the law.

The mainstream media gave this matter such low-key coverage that readers were bound to take the saving of salmon as just something only raised by noisy eco-freaks.

For some reason a fisheries story did make the front page of the Vancouver Sun -- a week after election day, on May 19. The article coldly told of the death of millions of pink salmon in the Fraser River because of dredging operations that are unnecessary. Where is the accompanying outrage? A Stephen Hume special, perhaps?

We now know that hundreds of thousands of Fraser River sockeye are being slaughtered by lice from fish cages on their amazing voyage to the high seas from which they return, on time and at the right place with breathtaking accuracy. Again, where is the media outrage? Are we the people supposed to be flaccidly indifferent so that to rouse us would not be appropriate?

Hundreds of thousands of pink salmon are lost to lice from fish farms every year in the Broughton Archipelago and Clayoquot Sound. The media, by their indifference, have tacitly given their approval.

Now we have the so-called "run of rivers" policy of the Campbell government, which will wreak havoc all up and down the coast extending into central B.C. where the rivers start and where the salmon are critical to First Nations.

First Nations do not speak as one

Let me pause here and say that I don't accept, nor should the public accept, that First Nations always know best when it comes to protecting rivers and streams. We get all misty-eyed when a chief (usually not a hereditary chief) prattles on about the sacredness of the land protected by First Nations for uncountable centuries just as he signs a rivers deal bringing a lot of short term money to the local band. I offer no criticism of chiefs of dirt poor, unemployed Nations who need help. I only say that this has nothing to do with the safety of fish in the rivers to be ravaged.

One must also know that Grand Chief Stewart Phillip opposes the government's rivers policy.

Some First Nations support fish farms, yet here is what Chief Robert Joseph, hereditary chief of the Kwicksutaineuk Ah-kwa-mish First Nation said recently:  "The demise of wild salmon is tantamount to genocide because it reflects the demise of our culture, way of life and spirituality.  Since the advent of salmon farming in our territories we have seen an apocalyptic decline in the state of our wild salmon stocks in the Broughton Archipelago.  And because Norway is the world leader in salmon farming and the Norwegian Government is the leading shareholder in Cermaq we are asking for their moral leadership to bring about best practices and to mitigate environmental degradation." In short, there is scarcely unanimity within the First Nations concerning "run-of-river" power generation projects or fish farming.

They would alter our salmon rivers

We must not forget the Stuart system sockeye which must go through the Nechako, a one might river rendered little more than a creek by the careless indifference of Alcan as it makes its electricity contrary to the original deal with the government. When those salmon are eliminated -- and it's not if but when -- there will be no reason not to dam the river above its confluence with the Thompson at Lytton. In fact, a dam, Moran, has been on the books and in the dreams of those who love to build big things since the mid 1940s.

Much is yet to come. The Bute Inlet rivers project, diverting 17 rivers, has a clear path to existence now that Campbell has been re-elected. This development has a bigger environmental imprint than Site "C" and would have and will provide power, not for B.C. but for export.

That is clear, given that Hydro's reservoirs are full when Bute will generate most of the electricity.

Then there is the marvelous Klinaklini River which rises in the Chilcotin plateau. It has been described thusly: "Take some of British Columbia's highest mountains, largest ice fields, bluest lakes, loveliest meadows, richest wetlands, and most luxurious forests. Squeeze through an impossibly narrow canyon, and release into a long, deep coastal fjord [Knight Inlet]. Mix in mountain goats, big horn sheep, bald eagles, grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, cougars, wolverines, weasels, coyote and lynx. Feed it all with salmon, and the web of life that springs from the Pacific's fundamental fish. At just 195 kilometres in length, with a watershed of 5,780 square kilometres, the Klinaklini River packs a gigantic wallop of biodiversity and ecological variation..."

In addition to being home to all five species of Pacific salmon (seven if you count Steelhead and Cutthroat), the Klinaklini is one of the most important Eulachon runs in B.C. Oil-rich Eulachon are of inestimable importance to coastal First Nations and are an important part of the ecology of the Klinaklini estuary.

A look at the developer's brochure tells us [t]he project will have a weir (industry doesn't like the word "dam") and the tunnel will be approximately 17 KMs long with a 10.3m diameter, meaning m3 of rock will be removed during the tunnel boring.

I wouldn't want to leave the impression that fish weren't considered, for the brochure says: "There is a barrier to fish migration located upstream of the confluence [of the Kliniklina with Dorothy Creek (a 5m drop and high velocity chute), downstream of the proposed location of the power tunnel intake." While the company notices this fact, evidently it doesn't bother them!

[Here is an amazing coincidence: the consulting engineers, Triton Engineering, is the same outfit who, during the Kemano II dust-up, advised Alcan how to get past environmental concerns about spawning sockeye in the Nechako after Alcan got finished with it.]

A call to action

I raise the Klinaklini as just one more example of the government's indifference to our fish heritage by government resulting in connivance with companies to pay little more than lip service, if that, to the plight of the Pacific Salmon, the "soul" of our province.

What, then, can we do?

What’' left is to educate and demonstrate. All British Columbians must understand what's at stake here as lovers of the environment, real ones, protest in every non-violent way open to them.

Either we quit... or fight.

I'm for the latter.

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