Skip to content

UBC-hosted dialogue paints a dire picture for Pacific salmon

Attendees voiced concerns over lack of action being taken to reduce cumulative impacts, save fish
Salmon are integral to Cariboo Chilcotin First Nations. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo)

The situation for Pacific salmon in British Columbia is dire, especially in the upper reaches of the Fraser River.

This is some of what was heard around the tables from stakeholders on May 8 at a Community Salmon Dialogue in Williams Lake hosted by the University of British Columbia Institute for Oceans and Fisheries.

Local stakeholders from the Cariboo region gathered in the Gibraltar Room of the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex to speak their minds, as the researchers gathered input from across the province.

Many of those present expressed frustration with the situation they are seeing with many salmon populations in the region desperately low.

Representatives from the Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance, Horsefly River Roundtable, Williams Lake First Nation and others, spoke freely about what they are seeing in the area and issues they see impacting these populations.

Richard Holmes, a registered professional biologist who has been working in the upper Fraser since the 1980s, said he saw extremely low numbers last year in four systems where he set up fish weirs with the Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance to catch Chinook. Normally the weirs would be set for two weeks, but due to low returns, they were up for three to four this time.

A fish weir is usually an extremely effective way to capture fish to harvest roe and milt (fish eggs and sperm) for hatcheries, but only one pair was caught on the Endako River with the weir.

In the Salmon River, no fish were caught in the weir.

Only one female and no male Chinook were caught in the upper Chilcotin River.

“It’s frightening,” said Holmes.

He said he won’t give up trying to help the salmon, but he said changes have to be made with respect to Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the amount of Chinook harvested which originate from the upper Fraser River.

“Salmon have been around for more than a million years, but in my 44-year career, they have been decimated by DFO mismanagement in the upper Fraser,” he said.

Brian Englund, chair of the Horsefly River Roundtable, said he and others are seeing the impacts of logging on fish populations in their area and spoke about the local climatic impacts of clear cuts and how riparian barriers are inadequate.

Englund said people have to start changing their thoughts about money versus valuing ecosystems, with Holmes noting the estimate is salmon feed 140 species throughout the food chain.

Gordon Sterritt, executive director of the Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance, mentioned how integral salmon are to social and cultural values.

“Languages have been built around it,” he said.

“It’s the social fabric of Indigenous culture.”

Sterritt said while Chilko returns have been doing better than most, Quesnel system stocks used to be as productive. He suggested using water storage in order to manage water at critical times for salmon.

Dr. Brian Riddell, the consultant helping lead the dialogues for the Institute for Oceans and Fisheries, said the group is keeping an open mind to listen to local stakeholders as they tour the province.

“We have no preconceived ideas of what we might hear,” he said.

Riddell explained the group is gathering input to then workshop with professionals to focus on key concerns and possible solutions to bring forward to government. The report will be posted publicly when it is completed.

“It’s a big challenge,” Riddell said, noting the solutions could require a lot of people and a lot of money in the remote upper parts of the province.

But he also emphasized the importance of salmon to the province.

“Salmon is B.C.,” he said.

The discussion mentioned how the Big Bar landslide in 2019 blocked many salmon from returning to the upper Fraser River and its tributaries, and then the heavy flooding in 2020 caused by high temperatures and heavy snowpack pushed many fish out of streams and rivers. Both the 2019 slide and 2020 freshet events significantly impacted the salmon populations. Higher water temperatures and drought conditions are also issues facing salmon. Both of these then increase concerns around other human-caused impacts like mining effluent and city wastewater discharge into the Fraser River as well as clear cuts which increase temperatures in tributaries.

All these impacts combine to create more challenging conditions for Pacific salmon species.

Williams Lake was the fourth stop for the UBC group, which will be having these open houses in 14 communities around the province.

So far, they have been hearing “really good discussion, good dialogue,” said Deana Machin, project coordinator with UBC.

READ MORE: Pacific salmon’s future focus of UBC discussion in Williams Lake May 8

Don’t miss out on reading the latest local, provincial and national news offered at the Williams LakeTribune. Sign up for our free newsletter here.

Ruth Lloyd

About the Author: Ruth Lloyd

I moved back to my hometown of Williams Lake after living away and joined the amazing team at the Williams Lake Tribune in 2021.
Read more