Canada History Week – Save the Salmon

GOGCS CFC-2-11-5 date and cannery unknown

Submitted by Lina K., Senior Interpreter

It’s Canada History Week  from November 23 to 29 and this year’s theme, Environmental History, explores how humans affect the environment, and how the environment affects us.

The history of the West Coast fishing industry is considered an “event” of national significance. Similarly, the West Coast salmon canning industry is historically significant for its contributions to Canadian society and identity – specifically the diversity of its workers’ gender, class and racial backgrounds – and the economy, having shipped millions of salmon cans all over the world. However, the success of the industry came at a cost: overfishing. 

As early as the 1880s, salmon stocks were decreasing and the first salmon hatchery, the Bon Accord Hatchery, was opened in 1883. In 1889, the federal government reduced the number of fishing licenses, even though some cannery owners countered this regulation by building “dummy canneries” to obtain additional fishing licenses. 

Over the decades since, Canada, the United States, and Japan have worked together and independently to create regulations and laws to protect and preserve fisheries in tidal (salt) and fresh waters: 

  • In 1937, the first formal salmon agreement was ratified between Canada and the United States (US) to protect and preserve sockeye salmon fisheries in the Fraser River. Representatives from both countries sat on the International Pacific Salmon Fisheries Commission (IPSFC) to maintain Fraser River fisheries. 
  • In 1953, a tripartite agreement was signed by Japan, the US, and Canada to manage Pacific salmon fish stocks in their respective countries. 
  • In 1985, Canada and the US signed the Pacific Salmon Treaty, an agreement between the two countries to manage all five species of Pacific salmon, prevent over-fishing and ensure each country benefits from fishing. The Treaty establishes the Pacific Salmon Commission, replacing IPSFC. 
  • Continuous revisions are made to the Fisheries Act of Canada to protect fish habitats. 
Newspaper clipping showing government officials from Japan, Canada and the U.S.A. negotiating the Tripartite agreement in 1953. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives (from the Fisherman Newspaper).

You can find additional information about the agreements in our Tides to Tins virtual museum here. 

In addition to these agreements, the three-kilometre Weaver Creek Spawning Channel was built in 1965 to provide clean water for salmon eggs and alevins during spawning season. To increase the rate of survival of juvenile salmon and to support the maintenance of wild salmon stocks, there are now 26 hatcheries in British Columbia.

As we celebrate Canada History Week this year, think about why salmon have been so important to the west coast and how we can help protect the fish in our oceans and rivers. For example, you can support sustainable fishing practices by choosing Ocean Wise-certified seafood. Ocean Wise considers the impacts of the fishery on the stock, on other species, effectiveness of management, and impacts on habitat and ecosystem. For a first-hand look at how hatcheries help salmon eggs grow into fry, visit the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site this winter to learn about the salmon life cycle through our Salmonids in the Classroom program.

Posted by m.horita
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