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The Salmon Crisis


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As most of you are already keenly aware, the prognoses for salmon runs from Alaska to California aren't pretty. A couple of weeks ago, US federal regulators canceled this year's commercial and recreational Chinook season, citing appalling statistics of recent and projected returns. The state of Washington is stopping just short of canceling the season, allowing catches of drastically reduced numbers: "This year’s forecast is for a Columbia River coho population of 196,000, which is a terrible number. Last year was a sub-par 462,000. A good year is 800,000 to 1 million." (linkage). Forecasts for Fraser River sockeye are just as bad, but there is no move to cancel the season just yet.

And that's just the wild stuff. Under growing pressure from environmentalists, the provincial government is taking some action on fish farming (they've just suspended issuing new licenses to farmers), but will likely continue to dither with studies and committees without passing effective legislation that will actually, finally, punctuate the long-standing debate on whether farmed salmon is good for anything other than BC's economy. The "it depends on who you ask" argument has become a Pythonesque exercise in ridiculousness that has stymied any forward movement in providing consumers an answer. In provincial politics, the issue of farmed salmon has evolved into a third rail (touch it and you die), so perhaps the only real action will come when it is time to assess blame for its consequences. Land-based aquaculture is, of course, too small to make much of a dent in demand (which is growing like crazy), and won't do anything to help coastal communities that are being hard hit by the bad runs. And nevermind that they'll be even harder hit if the runs were to cease entirely, whether on the government's say-so or Mother Nature's.

By all appearances, then, we're looking at the probable extinction of a few species of Pacific salmon if the status quo remains in the hands of people who continue to either sit on them or throw them up in frustration. Our government is not doing enough. Our First Nations leaders aren't doing enough. Our environmentalists aren't doing enough to communicate the stakes to our communities. Our citizens no longer know who to believe anymore. And our media, well...it's the media. Faced with this culture of uncertainty, consumers are still waiting for somebody to tell them what to do.

History has repeatedly shown that solutions to big problems never come from those who cause them. The collapsed cod fishery in Atlantic Canada tells us which way the road of indecision leads. The same scenario that befell them - one of wait, fret, talk, do nothing and then wait some more - is what we're seeing in BC today. If we're counting on a white horsed politician, an enlightened fisheries lobby, or an environmentalist Messiah to sort it out, we're just putting our heads in the sand, totally complicit in the destruction of one of BC's most iconic natural resouces by virtue of our inaction.

Up until this point, those that have entered the solutions game have been pigeon-holed by the media into the old logger/treehugger dichotomy. This has only served to make it easier for the general public to shake their heads, tsk tsk, and then turn to the sports section. Nothing gets solved and we inch closer to the day when we have to explain to our kids why there are no longer any salmon.

It is my opinion that all sides that have participated in the salmon debate are now compromised. The anti-science pushback against Global Warming and tobacco has shown that science is as maleable in today's media marketplace as politics, and just as easily bought. Fish farmers, green gurus, and various other Professors of Salmon have sucked the air right out of the issue's tires, and so it sits on blocks in our driveway like an old Camaro with gimped cylinder heads.

If it has taken them more than a decade to come to any semblance of a concrete and workable solution to the crisis, then they should surrender their right to the microphone and be mercilessly beaten with it. It's as if they've all been at the wheel of a car that has seen for miles and miles that the bridge ahead is out, but none of them have been able to agree on which foot to use to apply the brake.

So I guess my question is this: what, if anything, can the restaurant industry do where others in positions to effect real change have repeatedly failed?

As we've seen, no idea is more ridiculous than inaction, so giv'er. :)

Edited by Andrew Morrison (log)

Andrew Morrison

Food Columnist | The Westender

Editor & Publisher | Scout Magazine

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As we've seen, no idea is more ridiculous than inaction, so giv'er.  :)

Well, as a first step, no need for your question. Not that more couldn't be done, but I believe the restaurant community to be more active on the issue than most (I'm thinking Oceanwise and chefs like Clarke.)

My suggestion centres on you, you've written a succinct and compelling little essay here. I think it deserves a wider audience than eG.

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I'm no where near astute on this topic however a moratorium appears reasonable but on the other hand and after years of a moratorium on the east coast of Canada for cod, have the fish populations replenished? Or is it too little too late?

A pathetic answer with an attempt at humour is 'eat more pork'.

Brian

Brian Misko

House of Q - Competition BBQ

www.houseofq.com

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Interesting topic. Oceanwise has been a very useful enabler in the debate of informing the consumer & restaurant in what exactly constitutes sustainable fish. However it is not perfect, a far more rigourous standard is offered by the Marine Stewardship Council, whom l may add are looking at the certification of BC Sockeye, Pink & Chum species & should produce their findings soon(not soon enough!!!).

The MSC do not certify aquaculture yet but have identified links with the Soil Association in the UK (which has become a leader in developing organic aquaculture standards ,a surprisingly new & evolving process). With better research consumers & chefs alike will be able to make more informed decisions. Will it matter to local wild fish populations who not only suffer from overfishing but environmental issues too??? Yep a crapload of BC's catch goes abroad, & that demand is unlikely to wane unless the GOvt. does something about it. And really are the feds, prov. & city govts. going to effectively limit development to econmically important river systems that happen to have fish in them. The feds refused to recognize the particular sensitivity of decline in a number of select runs of salmon in BC waters by not granting protection status.

I guess as consumers the option exists in promoting & valuing other species, such as the Spiny dogfish(yummy fish & chips!!) which is deemed a sustainable source. Another could be artic char which is farmed within a fairly efficient closed system but as with farmed salmon a rethink is needed with it's food source(which aint sustainable) the Soil Assoc. standards seem to offer a desirable alternative. Farming of shellfish within BC is becoming increasingly significant & desirable as a foodsource & not enough local menus reflect this IMO. Perhaps as with a carbon tax a salmon tax could be applied to salmon fished locally(irrespective of domestic/international market consumption, in fact lets tax the foreigners more) Such revenues could be used to subsidize(dirty word i know) local fishers to fish less & perhaps used to protect particularly sensitive habitats. I could ramble on but i wont got to cook some ling cod for dinner.

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As we've seen, no idea is more ridiculous than inaction, so giv'er.  :)

Well, as a first step, no need for your question. Not that more couldn't be done, but I believe the restaurant community to be more active on the issue than most (I'm thinking Oceanwise and chefs like Clarke.)

My suggestion centres on you, you've written a succinct and compelling little essay here. I think it deserves a wider audience than eG.

Right on, mtigges. I wonder if (as a modest first step) Andrew M would permit us Egulleteers to forward his excellent screed to friends and family, if that is allowed?

Edited by grayelf (log)
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Great post. Well argumented.

I would vote for a complete moratorium on salmon fishing plus compulsory ´crossing the fingers twice a day for good luck´ for all those involved in salmon fishing, cooking and eating hoping that it isn´t already way to late.

As I understand it, cod isn´t rebouncing because all the little cods are being eaten by other species that used to be kept in check by bigger cod. And there you have a perfect catch 22, although a very sad one

Edited by jeroen_kb (log)
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  • 2 weeks later...

BC's economy has been built on resource extraction for a very long time. The only problem is that renewable resources (such as forestry and fisheries) were treated as if they were in fact non-renewable. Hence the state of the lumber and fishing industries today.

My view is that restaurants can do little becasue they (a) are never on the forefront of any political movement, (b) have no political power and © are not a pressure group.

They only sure thing is that whenever something is recognisde as being a problem, then it's too late. In the case of salmo, the runs will die off and we will simply substitue salmon from Russia. Is anything made in Canada any more? I'm begining to wonder.

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BC's economy has been built on resource extraction for a very long time.  The only problem is that renewable resources (such as forestry and fisheries) were treated as if they were in fact non-renewable.  Hence the state of the lumber and fishing industries today.

My view is that restaurants can do little becasue they (a) are never on the forefront of any political movement, (b) have no political power and © are not a pressure group.

They only sure thing is that whenever something is recognisde as being a problem, then it's too late.  In the case of salmo, the runs will die off and we will simply substitue salmon from Russia.  Is anything made in Canada any more?  I'm begining to wonder.

I can't accept that.

Andrew Morrison

Food Columnist | The Westender

Editor & Publisher | Scout Magazine

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BC's economy has been built on resource extraction for a very long time.  The only problem is that renewable resources (such as forestry and fisheries) were treated as if they were in fact non-renewable.  Hence the state of the lumber and fishing industries today.

My view is that restaurants can do little becasue they (a) are never on the forefront of any political movement, (b) have no political power and © are not a pressure group.

They only sure thing is that whenever something is recognisde as being a problem, then it's too late.  In the case of salmo, the runs will die off and we will simply substitue salmon from Russia.  Is anything made in Canada any more?  I'm begining to wonder.

I can't accept that.

For once, I find myself in total agreement with Andrew. (I'm as surprised as the rest of you)

We have yet to delve into the politics of food.

You make political decisions with what coffee you choose to have in the morning. Is it a fair trade coffee? You don't eat at Rotten Ronnie's because you disagree with them cutting the rainforest down to provide more grazing land for beef.

Food is so much more political than you know.

While restaurants don't elect politicians, we do happen to feed a hell of a lot of them. You might think it rude to bring this subject up while your local member of Parliment is scarving down a dozen oysters but we (the taxpayers) are their bosses.

They manged to get foie gras banned due to people exerting political pressure.

Why not finally correct the problem now before there isn't anything left to save?

By the way, just because you see Russian salmon in a store doesn't mean a whole lot. Could it be that it was cheaper for them to buy in bulk than pay what our fishermen are charging? Did you ask why they were carrying it?

"Why then, the world is mine oyster, which I with sword, shall open."

William Shakespeare-The Merry Wives of Windsor

"An oyster is a French Kiss that goes all the way." Rodney Clark

"Oyster shuckers are the rock stars of the shellfish industry." Jason Woodside

"Obviously, if you don't love life, you can't enjoy an oyster."

Eleanor Clark

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I also can't accept that. Just make your own creme fraiche. Three parts heavy cream, one part fresh buttermilk (dig to the back for this one) and mix. Let stand, covered, 24 hours. Stir again and refrigerate. This will allow the product to thicken. Use in place of sour cream, or whipped cream (sweet)! A little vanilla and sugar, whip it up and put onto your baked apple, or rhubarb pie. Just stay away from the coconut cream pie. ;)

Keeps about two weeks in the fridge.

Oh, and the answer to your other thing? Local is the new organic. Fuck McDonalds. Just don't go. When you need a new laundry hamper, maybe you have to buy from China or Thailand, but food?? You are kidding yourself if you think you really need those snow peas in December. Sub sable for your sea bass. Sub albacore for your ahi. Sub farmed trout or char for your salmon. Just do it, it's really that easy.

-- Matt.

ETA: Yes, I know where my computer was built, and it wasn't Canada.

Edited by Matt R. (log)
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By the way, just because you see Russian salmon in a store doesn't mean a whole lot. Could it be that it was cheaper for them to buy in bulk than pay what our fishermen are charging? Did you ask why they were carrying it?

Nope. No need to. The fact that they were carrying it means that people are willing to buy it. The question needs to be directed at those customers buying it.

It's the same everywhere though. Last summer (non-apple season mind you) I was holidaying in the Okanagan and saw apples from either Chile or New Zealand in a local mini market.

I agree with Matt. Unless people buy local and in season we will continue to import food from ludicrous places. But price is the most important factor. I've just returned to Vancouver after 20 years from London (UK). Vancouver has higher than London food prices, higher than London house prices, but no where near London wages. Cheese costs twice what it does in London. Taxes are higher, utilities are higher. Yet real wages have decreased over the last 20 years. Go figure!

I've never sen such a false economy as I do in Vancouver (and I'm an economist). The economy is based entirely on a immigration (both intranational and international) of monied individuals, a 2010 construction boom (that must end) and the exploitation of non-renewable resources at record high commodity prices.

Scratch below that and there's not much. Real estate doesn't lead the economy, it follows it. The lumber industry is in self-inflicted terminal decline. Fisheries - well that's how this thread started.

Wow, I've almost convinced myself to return back to London.

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By the way, just because you see Russian salmon in a store doesn't mean a whole lot. Could it be that it was cheaper for them to buy in bulk than pay what our fishermen are charging? Did you ask why they were carrying it?

Nope. No need to. The fact that they were carrying it means that people are willing to buy it. The question needs to be directed at those customers buying it.

It's the same everywhere though. Last summer (non-apple season mind you) I was holidaying in the Okanagan and saw apples from either Chile or New Zealand in a local mini market.

I agree with Matt. Unless people buy local and in season we will continue to import food from ludicrous places. But price is the most important factor. I've just returned to Vancouver after 20 years from London (UK). Vancouver has higher than London food prices, higher than London house prices, but no where near London wages. Cheese costs twice what it does in London. Taxes are higher, utilities are higher. Yet real wages have decreased over the last 20 years. Go figure!

I've never sen such a false economy as I do in Vancouver (and I'm an economist). The economy is based entirely on a immigration (both intranational and international) of monied individuals, a 2010 construction boom (that must end) and the exploitation of non-renewable resources at record high commodity prices.

Scratch below that and there's not much. Real estate doesn't lead the economy, it follows it. The lumber industry is in self-inflicted terminal decline. Fisheries - well that's how this thread started.

Wow, I've almost convinced myself to return back to London.

I agree with you on this totally.

It personally breaks my heart to see places serving Kumamoto oysters when there are so many struggling BC oyster growers trying to sell their product locally.

The main reason their oysters aren't being bought here is the fact that Vancouverites don't want to pay the price they are asking so they sell 90% of their production East of the Rockies.

I know what you mean about the economy, especially being here in Whistler.

Everyone here is banking on the Olympics to make them rich. Yeah, right.

But we digress from the original topic which is the salmon fishery and what can we do about stopping it's further decline.

"Why then, the world is mine oyster, which I with sword, shall open."

William Shakespeare-The Merry Wives of Windsor

"An oyster is a French Kiss that goes all the way." Rodney Clark

"Oyster shuckers are the rock stars of the shellfish industry." Jason Woodside

"Obviously, if you don't love life, you can't enjoy an oyster."

Eleanor Clark

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But we digress from the original topic which is the salmon fishery and what can we do about stopping it's further decline.

Yes, what do we do? I'm passionate about the dwindling of the fish population everywhere, whether it be West coast salmon, East coast cod, Great Lakes muskie or river-caught trout. I have nightmares about the very last salmon being caught -- like the whack who cut down the last tree on Easter Island. (I don't even know if salmon still rush down the Restigouche or Mirimachi.)

I want to do something, and I feel ignorant and helpless. Advice?

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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As we've seen, no idea is more ridiculous than inaction, so giv'er.  :)

Well, as a first step, no need for your question. Not that more couldn't be done, but I believe the restaurant community to be more active on the issue than most (I'm thinking Oceanwise and chefs like Clarke.)

My suggestion centres on you, you've written a succinct and compelling little essay here. I think it deserves a wider audience than eG.

absolutely

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