Reading Material

More years ago than I care to remember I was attending a major fisheries conference where a prominent member of the academic community was giving the keynote address. He opened his remarks with the comment, “If you want to know the future, look to California”. That was one of those gems that stuck with me, although I twisted it a bit to read, if you want to know the future of fisheries, look to the Columbia River.

Not long afterward I came across a paper that also caught my attention. The author was Robert T. Lackey, at the time an emerging voice that many people in high places in the fisheries and political world didn’t like to hear from. The paper was titled “Defending Reality”. The citation is as follows:

Its only a 3 page essay and spoken in easily understandable language (a Lackey hallmark) so, please, no excuses for not reading it.

Fast forward to 2017. In the past week I have received email messages from five independent sources extolling the virtues of a recent publication that is capturing a lot of much deserved attention. You’ll find it at:

The primary author, Jim Lichatowich, is another well known straight shooting scientist with a long, unwavering history of advocacy for wild fish and how to better the management of them and their habitat. This time he has an impressive list of co-authors, many of whom are familiar names in the wild fish conservation arena. Again, this is a must read for anyone serious about understanding where fish and fisheries management have been and where they are headed. Pay particular attention to the concept of shifting baselines highlighted by UBC professor Dr. Daniel Pauly in 1995.

Of just as much interest to me, though, was another Lackey paper that arrived courtesy of the author himself 13 days earlier. The reference for that one:

When I opened that paper and ran through it I couldn’t help but recall his 2001 Defending Reality. Twenty-six years had passed and the fundamental message was unaltered. I have nothing but admiration for Dr. Lackey and his tenacity in staying a course he has been so passionate and so right about for so long.

I don’t doubt that some, perhaps many, of those who make time to review these papers will conclude British Columbia is beyond the reach of the multitude of problems that beset the Columbia Basin and all the rest of the watersheds that fall under the umbrella of the messages delivered by all these outstanding spokespersons. I would argue, though, that Dr. Lackey has been too kind in his references to the health of fish populations and their habitat in northern BC. The only thing that has kept BC from a similar rate of deterioration of its fish and fisheries can be captured in a single figure.

An image clipped from a message delivered by retired but tireless environmentalist of Washington Department of Fish and Game background, Hal Michael. The point to note is the relative darkness beyond the southwest corner of British Columbia. The inverse relationship between people and fish along the Pacific Coast is inescapable.

British Columbia is following precisely the same evolutionary pathway as everywhere south of us. I challenge anyone who claims otherwise to offer up their evidence. We are a few years behind in our schedule and the people pressure has obviously not yet reached similar levels and never will. However, central and northern BC will never match the inherent productivity of the Columbia basin and everywhere south of there. Our Skeena and Nass steelhead, for example, are distantly removed from the center of abundance for the species. They can’t begin to absorb the habitat and harvest pressures their Columbia , Rogue and Sacramento cousins have through their history. Look where those stocks of wild salmon and steelhead are today. Its only a matter of time before our current approach of presiding over the demise of our fish and fish habitat exacts its toll.

Now for another worthy read. This one comes from Smithers provincial fisheries biologist Mark Beere. (The latest label of the Ministry he resides in is Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Urban Development. That’s why I’ll refer to Mark as simply a provincial biologist!) Here’s the link for that one:

This paper is unrelated to anything above but it certainly merits attention in the context of what fishing pressure can do to anadromous fish run timing. Generations of provincial biologists have held that excessive harvest pressure on a steelhead run timing component can significantly alter the longer term run timing scenario. That has been a major point of contention with respect to harvest of enhanced Skeena sockeye (Babine spawning channel origin) co-migrating with far less abundant early timed Skeena steelhead. Those early steelhead bound for destinations like the upper Morice and John Fennelly’s Steelhead Paradise country of the upper Susut are two of the better known stocks of concern in this regard.

Those who control the commercial fishing business up Skeena way have doggedly maintained the science community must prove there is a problem. Of course, the status quo always prevails until there aren’t enough fish left to prove the obvious. I’m reminded of seal and sea lion predation in the Salish Sea (most of us still refer to it as the Strait of Georgia). Thirty or more years of multitudes of observations of those cute, cuddlies feasting on hatchery juvenile salmonids and the continuous supply of returning adults and the science finally confirms what anglers have claimed for that entire time – those seals and sea lions are a big problem. But, the first sign of any action being taken to protect what remains of, for example, impoverished if not endangered steelhead stocks is nowhere near on the management agency’s agendas.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step though………or so I’m told.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *