Letter to the Editor: Thorkelson got it wrong

Contrary to Joy Thorkelson’s Oct. 1 letter to the editor, “Increase Fish Catch”, the Skeena fishing story is much better than last year.


Contrary to Joy Thorkelson’s Oct. 1 letter to the editor, “Increase Fish Catch”, the Skeena fishing story is much better than last year.

Nearly three million sockeye returned to the Skeena, enabling commercial, recreational and food fisheries to occur throughout our watershed. This compares to less than 500,000 sockeye last year — too few even for a food harvest by First Nations.

While true, more sockeye returned to Babine Lake than required by DFO to seed the artificial spawning channels, many wild spawning streams of depressed populations are not being fully seeded. In fact, several of these wild populations are at less than 20 per cent of their historic levels.

It is also important to understand, there are never “too many” salmon returning to a stream; such thinking ignores the needs of an ecosystem. After all, we humans are not the only users of salmon — wildlife, forests, and future generations of salmon themselves require the nutrients of spawning salmon to thrive.

Some context is needed. A.L. Pritchard, in his Skeena River Salmon Investigation Report, wrote: “As early as 1937, preliminary examination of the salmon pack figures for the Skeena River indicated that at least in the case of the sockeye salmon, the most important species, a gradual decline was occurring. Over the whole recent period, 1904-1945, a definite decline must be admitted amounting to approximately 50 per cent. The discussion thus far can, in the opinion of the investigators, lead to no other conclusion than that the commercial fishery must be held mainly responsible for the decline in the sockeye salmon populations.” The Canadian governments solution to this problem was to build artificial spawning channels on Babine Lake in the 1960s. This experiment worked well  allowing the continuation of high commercial harvest, however wild sockeye remained depressed.

The critical difference between a mixed-stock ocean fishery and a terminal fishery in Babine Lake is that the ocean fishery indiscriminately catches sockeye from threatened populations, and at-risk species such as chum; the Babine Lake fishery targets only the sockeye returning to the spawning channels. A larger ocean harvest would translate to fewer returning wild sockeye from threatened populations. Diversity in salmon populations is not only critical to upriver First Nations and ecosystem, but also to ensuring their long-term health. This is analogous to your financial portfolio: one would never advise investing all of your money into one stock.

It is also important to note, the “creation of a huge Babine Lake fishery” is not a “grand experiment by DFO”. It is returning a fishery to the Lake Babine Nation that occurred for thousands of years, until 1908 when the Canadian Government outlawed their fishery and expanded commercial fisheries at the mouth of the Skeena.

For the record, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust is not a “steelhead organization” whose goal is to “enlarge the steelhead sports industry”. Our goal is to make the Skeena River watershed a global model of sustainability.

This requires healthy populations of all wild salmon. SkeenaWild also works on several other natural resource issues such as air pollution, mining, and energy — ensuring development protects local communities and the environment.

Greg Knox, Executive Director, Skeena Wild