The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

British Columbia’s Salmon Stock Collapses

This has been coming for a long time.  I grew up in BC, used to work as deckhand for an uncle on his salmon troller occasionally.  Even back in the 80s it was obvious stocks were in massive decline.  Friend of another Uncle is a marine biologist, in his 60s, he says he expects to see the effective end of BC salmon in his lifetime.

Still, this is precipitious:

A MYSTERIOUS decline in the numbers of spawning salmon has become one of the rites of autumn in British Columbia, bringing worries of financial and job losses, threats of extinction and a perplexing lack of answers. This season only 1.7m of the 10.4m sockeye salmon that were forecast to return to the Fraser river in fact made it—a 50-year low

The response?  Another inquiry…

That prompted Stephen Harper, Canada’s prime minister, to ask Bruce Cohen, a justice of British Columbia’s Supreme Court, to hold an inquiry into the causes of the sockeye’s decline. Applause was muted. Four other federal inquiries held over the past three decades have failed to halt the decline.

The economist then goes on to suggest overfishing, destruction of spawning habitat, “first nation” overfishing, parasites from farm fish, and climate change.  The answer, of course, is probably “all of the above”.

I remember the period prior to the collapse and essential extinction of the cod fishery off the east coast of Canada, the Grand Banks.  Commission after commission, study after study, and nothing was done.  In large part because in order to stop it would have required unilaterally extending territorial waters and stopping both Canadians and Europeans from overfishing (ideally Americans too, but that wouldn’t be possible due to disparity of armed forces).  The Feds weren’t willing to do that, since it would have caused a huge diplomatic snafu and might have even caused a war and they were willing to trade away the fish stocks for good relations with Europe and America.

Same thing will happen out West.  No one will do what is necessary, and the fishery will be destroyed.  And the same thing will happen to all major commercial fishing stocks in the world, as we continue to overfish all of them and destroy the habitat of all of them.  The only solution would be to create an armed navy whose job is to enforce internationally declared fishing limits, and enforce various environmental laws, such as not allowing dragnet ships which pick up everything on the sea bottom, destroying the ecosystem.  Ships found engaging in such activities would be impounded.

But, of course, that’s not going to happen.  So enjoy fish while you can.  Within most of our lifetimes the only fish most of us will be able to eat will be parasite ridden farm fish.  The rest will be gone, and the seas will be dead.


The China Syndrome


About Freaking Time


  1. scruff

    This is pretty much the pattern across every environmental issue you can find. Inquiries happen precisely to avoid doing anything about the problem, or possibly because the people ordering them are hoping they can find some miraculous way to solve the problem without changing their behavior.

    Of course, they never will. You can’t run an economy based upon the unsustainable destruction of the ecosystem and end up with a healthy ecosystem. And once that’s gone you won’t have an economy for long, either. Everyone knows this except for those who mistakenly believe money to be more fundamental to life than the actual biosphere. Unfortunately, that latter group seem to include everyone we might ever have the option of voting for.

  2. John B.

    well, happy thanksgiving to you too on this dreary rainy monday morning when our senate can’t possibly be anything but the bought and paid for shills by legalized bribery by big insurance and big pharma…

  3. Formerly T-Bear

    Face facts, industrial fishing is highly efficient overfishing, it has been going on effectively since the end of WWII (65 years) much thanks to the development of marine engineering necessitated by war, sonars, radars, global positioning systems (and predecessor systems). The biosphere is not capable of sustaining that level of efficiency in depleting fish populations. Additionally, great value is placed upon the reproductive parts of some species, striking at the very heart of the ability to recover the targeted species. No reproduction, no species. Simple as that.

    The second problem is that of “the Commons” where economic efficiency is rewarded, inefficient users are eliminated from using the commons, translating into “who can grab the most, the most often”. There is no interest to countervail against the most rapacious fishing possible, technically dredging and trawling forms of fishing, both doing incalculable damage to ocean ecosystems. Governments are incapable of acting in the overall interests concerning the fisheries as they are beneficiary of taxes levied on income produced, energy consumed, and materials used in the endeavor or through the social safety net provided their people. Note too the incredible efficiency of monofilament nets capable of hoovering up all life entangled in contacting such a barrier whether pelagic or demersal.

    Only Iceland has taken on the international fishers to preserve its fisheries, Norway too is following that path to give protection to its fisheries. Canada’s Grand Banks remains effectively dead after being closed nearly two decades. Europe’s waters are effectively dangerously overfished, the richness of the Irish seas is seriously threatened and is on the verge of collapse, entire Irish ports have but a handful of local fishers left, generations of fishing expertise are being lost as are the traditions for fishing. The fishing in the Pacific NE is in dire danger of following the other great fisheries. African fisheries are being raped and pillaged as this is written. Once lost, the knowledge of traditional fishermen will become extinct as well, a resource developed over millennium irreplaceably gone.

  4. S Brennan


    Was that a troller…or a trawler you worked on? The trolling fleet has nothing to do with the decimation, but trawlers, east side gill netters…and logging that fills the streams and estuaries with silt are the crux of the problem.

  5. BC Nurse Prof

    When Norway refused to allow companies to farm salmon in Norwegian waters, they came to BC and got free tickets and tax breaks. Now the sea lice in the farmed salmon are eating the salmon fry released from the hatcheries as they enter the ocean from the Fraser river (and others). No one will stop this because people will scream at the few jobs that are lost. I read an article recently that documented the starvation of grizzly bears in the Great Rainforest due to the shortage of salmon.

    Stop eating salmon:

    The history of the Grand Banks repeats itself and no one cares.

  6. Ian Welsh

    We called it a trawler. Smallish boat, two deep lines off either side of the boat. No nets, 2 man crew – the captain and a deckhand (and the captain’s labrador retriever).

  7. I suspect that fishing limits for salmon and cod could be enforced if the U.S. government went along with them. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening while the current crowd of ethical midgets is running things.

  8. S Brennan


    Having rounded Vancouver Is. in a 21′ sailboat I know those boats to be trollers and they are not only the responsible way to fish, they catch the best salmon.

    They can’t destroy a whole run like a trawler with a purse seine net and the fish are better because they are still on the bite and they bodies haven’t started to die like the east side gill netters get. They are good people too, they look after me from Sea Otter cove to Port Jaun. Funny, just last night, I mentioned this act of kindness at my bar while talking with a Canadian friend.

  9. Ian Welsh

    No doubt you’re right. I never saw it spelled, only heard it said and it always sounded l trawl to me not troll, at least the way my uncle said it.

    Not a bad job, deckhand on one of those boats. Though I never did anything long haul. He used to go to the west side of the island sometimes for a week, and a couple times he went up north towards the panhandle.

  10. Elliot

    My stepfather’s family were whalers, and then fishers, off Long Island for about 300 years… he could remember 65# lobsters from when he was a boy–the family stopped fishing in the 1940& 50’s mostly. And we used to have sturgeon in the river here, until they dammed it. Makes me angry at whole generations of humans.

  11. Celsius 233

    I too worked on a troller (40′ wooden double ender) out of Coos Bay, Oregon back in the 70’s. She was built up in Puget Sound in the 40’s out of clear fir. Just me and the skipper. We ran 3 lines off each side and even then it was obvious trouble was coming. My skipper was in his 50’s at the time and had fished all of his life; he told me, based on the size of the salmon we were catching, and the cross breeding with hatchery fish, was dooming the wild stock. A few years back only 1 sockeye salmon made it to a lake in Idaho via the Columbia and Snake rivers. It’s enough to make a grown man cry (me) to see what we’ve done to this most beautiful planet.

  12. I know what you mean by “the seas will be dead,” but you better hope it won’t be literally true. The world ocean produces over 50% of our oxygen. As with all “terraforming” type processes, it doesn’t happen overnight (Hollywood to the contrary notwithstanding). It would take a couple of centuries before we lost enough “fossil” oxygen to start dying. And through all that time, we’d know we were nothing but dead folks walking.

  13. There will likely still be O2 producing algae in the sea. I wouldn’t worry about the O2 part.

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