I'm a biologist with the David Suzuki Foundation and a big part of my job is to make sure Pacific salmon in Canada are doing okay. I spend lots of time in meetings with fishermen and government officials and figuring out ways to improve how we fish salmon and protect their habitat. As I am sure is the case with many biologists, I got into this work because I was fascinated by the living world around me. Unlike many of my colleagues in the fish world, I don't spend my weekends perfecting my fly-casting.
What I do find fascinating is that the last remaining great hunt is in the water. We continue to rely on wild fish as a food source (or to feed our food, like pigs, chickens or farmed salmon) and we have applied our amazing technology to develop ways to find, catch and process them. In Western Canada, Pacific salmon have always been at the centre of our fisheries and have played a key role in defining many of our communities.
What we are only beginning to understand is that we can't really manage Pacific salmon, or their ecosystems. They are too complex, uncertain and we keep changing things through fishing, pollution, and wrecking their habitat. We can really only manage ourselves. Some obvious ways of doing this better would be making sure we're only catching a small proportion of the salmon that come back and keeping open net-cage salmon farms that can share disease and parasites out of wild salmon habitat.
Despite my job description, Pacific salmon in Canada are not doing okay. This became obvious to a lot of Canadians when the federal government announced a judicial inquiry to investigate the collapse of Fraser River sockeye salmon. A judicial inquiry is a pretty big deal and will identify significant issues, but we already know there is one overarching solution that has the potential to benefit us all — the recovery of Pacific salmon. Over the next few months the David Suzuki Foundation will be figuring out how to help the inquiry tackle some of the core issues facing Pacific salmon in Canada, including fisheries mismanagement, habitat loss, climate change and impacts from salmon farms. The federal government should be commended for calling the inquiry, but now it must show real leadership by making a public commitment to salmon recovery and directing the inquiry to help develop a salmon recovery plan.