David Suzuki: Uncovering the mystery of B.C.’s disappearing sockeye

The Fraser River’s sockeye salmon are in trouble. And when the salmon are in trouble, we’re all in trouble.

The number of sockeye returning from the ocean to the Fraser River this year is one of the lowest in the past 50 and follows two years of dangerously low returns. In fact, we have witnessed decades of decline for diverse sockeye populations from the Fraser Watershed, some of which are now on the brink of extinction.

Many salmon runs besides Fraser sockeye are also endangered, while others have disappeared altogether. As populations decline, so does genetic diversity. This diversity allows salmon to adapt to the challenges they face and keeps the populations strong and healthy.

The total disappearance of Pacific salmon would be devastating not just for First Nations and families that depend on the fish for food, but for all who consider salmon a healthy and tasty food source and who rely on the money salmon fishing brings to the economy. Salmon are also essential to the healthy functioning of ecosystems. They bring nutrients from the oceans to the rivers and forests and are a valuable food source for whales, bears, birds, and other wildlife.

The Fraser sockeye fishery is one of Canada’s most valuable, accounting for close to 50 percent of the economic value of all salmon caught in B.C. Their extremely low returns have been called a mystery because finding one simple cause or solution is difficult. However, even though we can’t always link an exact cause to every salmon population decline, we do know the major threats, and that gives us hope that we can change things for the better.

Sockeye have been heavily fished over the years, their spawning habitat in rivers and lakes is being destroyed, their survival is threatened by warming oceans and rivers due to climate change, and they are vulnerable to sea lice and diseases from open-net salmon farms.

While we need to invest more funding in science to understand the exact details behind saving our disappearing salmon, we can and must take precautionary actions to curtail activities that we know harm salmon. Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy provides the tools to do this, but although the government adopted this policy in 2005, it has yet to fund it and put it to work. Now is the time to do so.

Specifically, we need to work with government and industry to find ways to catch salmon from healthy stocks while avoiding catching salmon from threatened populations. Freshwater habitat needs to be conserved and rebuilt, and destructive practices such as converting fish-bearing lakes to mine-tailings ponds or destroying streamside vegetation should be stopped.

We must also make sure that seafood labelled as sustainable truly meets the necessary criteria. Third-party eco-certification, like that offered by the U.K.-based Marine Stewardship Council, must be reserved for fisheries that are well-managed and don’t further endanger threatened salmon populations.

We need to change salmon farming to remove the impacts of sea lice and disease by creating a thriving closed-containment industry that separates farmed fish from wild.

Canada must also combat global warming by committing to major reductions of greenhouse gases at upcoming negotiations in Copenhagen if the salmon are to survive their long journey from spawning grounds to the sea and back over the long term.

Fortunately, leaders are starting to emerge in the struggle to protect the salmon. Fishermen are working with First Nations in the Skeena watershed to use beach seines to selectively harvest abundant salmon runs. Commercial-scale trials of closed-containment salmon farms are underway off the east coast of Vancouver Island and at other sites around the world. Municipalities such as Maple Ridge have adopted improved development practices to protect salmon streams.

These efforts employ a holistic, ecosystem-based approach that acknowledges the many factors that affect salmon’s ability to survive and thrive.

By embracing our role as a significant part of the ecosystem and acting with the knowledge that we are connected to it for good or for ill, we have a chance to reshape the way we fish, build communities, and live our lives so that salmon remain a healthy part of this coast. We will all be richer if we succeed.

Take David Suzuki’s Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.




Aug 25, 2009 at 4:46pm

Eco-certification? Good luck. Is Suzuki going to write a big cheque to the BC Liberal Party? Right now because of lobbying from fish farms fresh salmon at the store is not even required to be labelled farmed or wild.

Third-party eco-certification

Aug 25, 2009 at 5:43pm

Wondefull, we need more reasons to grow the government.

Does any one notice that this crisis happened under the watchful eye of the DFO. And so, seeing as they did a bang up job protecting the resource they deserve a bigger budget so they can employ the new 'third-party eco-certification' department of the government.

Is this all environmentalists want to do ; Expand government? Who happens to be the biggest waster of resources that exists. And by that credit the worst offender in unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions.

I wonder if David Suzuki could find a few words on that fact.

Oh, but it would be attacking the hand that feeds him.


Aug 25, 2009 at 5:58pm

Don't screw with my fish farms Suzy we made a deal!


Aug 25, 2009 at 6:45pm

Hmmm Mr fruit fly expert taking a breather from his Global warming scam.. Tell us oh wise one what sins must we atone for to get the salmon back? The kid gloves that Canada and the media treat this guy and his grand stories is getting old.


Aug 25, 2009 at 7:39pm

This is old news. Ever since Al Gore made the comment "There are wonderful economic benefits to all this" after the showing of his film, we can all see who benefits: auto dealers, electric light manufacturers,
purveyors of "green" products, and, of course, Mr. Suzuki.
We had a snowfall of 42" in Vancouver in 1972.... what on earth caused that?


Aug 25, 2009 at 8:25pm

Oh wise critic of Suzuki, you must have your PHD in biology and have been actively researching, writing and speaking about the environmental web over 50+ years? Oh wait, NO, because if you did you'd understand that it's all connected and not a separate issue. Right, wise one?

Real Scientist

Aug 25, 2009 at 8:45pm

Global warming is a politically motivated scam! It seems that Suzuki should be placed under the pseudo-scientist category for even refering to it.

you reap what you sow

Aug 25, 2009 at 9:13pm

Who are you speaking for now David? Do you think Gordon Campbell and his cronies have any loyalty to you at all? You put your allegiance in with rats now they're turning on you and you've lost what little credibility you had with the people that once gave a damn about what you wrote.

Evil Eye

Aug 25, 2009 at 9:20pm


Lesson over.


Aug 25, 2009 at 9:36pm

David Suzuki can goto hell as far as I'm concerned,he's as much as fault for the destuction of our salmon runs as this faux liberal government which he supports,everybody knows that since these campbell cronies pushed through raspid expansion of these fishfarms ,the salmon started disappearing en masse, Suzukis has lost all credibilty simply by supporting a carbon tax thas was nothing moretha n a tax grab ,he knows it ,this tax has had not one iota of an affect on anything except for bringing on more poverty ,his advice is no longer welcomed ,he's lost it ,he's old and out of touch and has done more damage than good.David get lost ,you blew it pal ,,big time ,suck it up buttercup ,man up and admit,at least save a little face of the thetinybbit you have left .The extinction of our salmon will be every bit a paert of your legacy as it will campbells and I hope you both rot in hell.