Wild salmon aren’t just emblematic of the BC wilderness, they are integral to it. They form one of the backbones of the ecosystem that covers everything from climate to food security, to tourism and local economies. But there’s a problem - one intrinsically tied to our own industry. Wild salmon populations are diminishing rapidly, and soon many in our area could die out fully, as a result of the invasive practices of salmon farming.
Farming livestock and fish for food is not inherently invasive — it’s a matter of careful practices and restraint. Chicken feedlots have to take great care to ensure their birds are sealed off from the natural environment, due to the risk of transmitting avian flu.
Wild salmon feedlots have not done this, meaning the diseases and pathogens that are created by the intensive breeding of salmon farms are released into wilder populations, where they wreak havoc.
Alexandra Morton - Salmon Conservationist
This is where Alexandra Morton comes in — known as the Jane Goodall of BC salmon — and she has dedicated her work to chronicling the BC wild salmon population, and fighting for its conservation, alongside the indigenous peoples of BC.
This wasn’t always her cause. When she moved to the area in 1984, she was following a group of orcas on the Broughton Archipelago. However, after the first salmon farms arrived in 1988, the orca population disappeared, alongside declining and unhealthy salmon populations, and since then the conservation of this vital resource has been the focus of her dedicated work.
In her own words, it was a difficult journey, one where she was constantly reevaluating her priorities. And as any good scientist would do, testing out her methods to find what would be effective - but it’s one that came from a place of genuine heart. Of a conservationist’s desire to preserve the place she had come to call home, and of scientist’s responsibility to the truth, as she said in an interview with website Civil Eats:
“If my government [made decisions] based on science then research is all I would have to do, and that would be a much more comfortable existence for me. But our government is not based on science. If you know that an ecosystem is being destroyed, you have to do everything you can to make sure people know...That’s why I do activism—to make sure there’s a platform to get the message out”
Her work is vital, using her research background she’s able to provide a full picture of exactly how things are, and the picture the data paints is an alarming one.
Taking the Fraser River sockeye run as a data point, we are looking at two consecutive years with some of the lowest numbers ever recorded, down to 200,000 from an expected number of 10 million.
But with investment and commitment, recovery is possible. And progress is being made in terms of sustainable practices, with recent actions at a federal level being taken to curtail salmon farming and work with indigenous governments instead.
Preserve the BC Ecosystem
What can we do? As consumers, and as suppliers, we can make informed choices.
Many of these invasive and shortsighted practices are rooted in the idea of meeting supply and demand, but also in telling consumers that farmed salmon protects wild salmon, even as the evidence tells a different story.
By buying sustainably sourced salmon and other fishing products you aren’t just getting a healthier, better tasting product, you’re helping to preserve the ecosystem that makes BC such a beautiful and remarkable place to live.