Salmon News: Salmon for Provincial Symbol, and They Can Tell Us What’s Wrong With the Oceans

If it seems like we’ve been giving you a lot of salmon news recently it’s because there has been a lot of salmon in the news recently. Two articles in Tuesday’s Vancouver Sun are yet another two examples of this recent rise in salmon awareness. In the paper, two different authors argue for the importance of wild salmon – one for its importance to the environment, the other for its importance to the people of this province.

In the first article, Randy Shore explains that salmon can be used as “canaries in the coal mine” to tell scientists what’s wrong with the environment – if only the scientists can learn to listen.

Felix Breden, chairman of SFU’s biology department, explained that the very fact that salmon are missing in British Columbia’s waters tells us that “obviously” there is a problem. The information comes out of a symposium being held at the university for scientists to use their combined knowledge of fish behaviour to understand and monitor pollutants.

The group has monitored the effects of environmental estrogens and estrogen mimics on fish, and found that even very low levels are harmful. More surprisingly, the scientists realized that in some cases it was not the salmon but what was on the salmon that was important to their research.

This was true in the case of scientists monitoring sea lice infestations in the Broughton Archipelago. Researcher Brendan Connors was watching lice-infected pink salmon to see how the lice affected other salmon species with which they were interacting, specifically coho since it feeds on the pink. As he explains,

“A by-product of some of our early experimental work was [finding out] that sea lice are adept at jumping off of the pink salmon as they are being eaten and attaching themselves to the coho that were eating them,” he said. “The infected pinks were passing on a portion of their parasite burden to the coho.”[…read full article]

The researchers then compared the health of these coho to coho which live further from the areas of high infection, and found that the populations living in the affected areas had a population depression coinciding with the louse infestation. The research is being discussed as part of the 2010 Ecological and Evolutionary Ethology of Fishes symposium, which continues until May 20.

But salmon are not just an indicator of the health of our coastal ecosystems. In the second article,Iona Campagnolo, former lieutenant-governor of British Columbia, revives the argument that we should consider the salmon as the next symbol of our province. (We first told you about this campaign here.)

Campagnolo argues that salmon have both an ancient and contemporary importance to our province. They sustained the coastal First Nations, opened up coastal British Columbia for the European settlers, were a major industry for many generations, and still hold fascination for contemporary British Columbians when they are running in coastal rivers.

In fact, one story from First Nations oral history notes that when the first humans arrived the animals saw how pathetic they were and left them alone. The salmon were the first to step up and offer their aid to the people, and when the other animals saw the salmon helping the strange creatures, they all came forward and helped too. Thus, the First Nations have had, and still have, an incredibly strong tie to the salmon that goes beyond it as a food source. [Author’s note: I heard this story at the Get Out Migration from one of the First Nations elders. You can read my account of the migration here.]

As Campognolo states at the end of her article:

Salmon have long meant much more to British Columbians than a source of income or a fine meal. As with so many of our signposts in this time of immense change, the species of salmon found in our countless rivers, streams and waterways represent a precious inheritance that is deserving of our formal recognition. Sun columnist Miro Cernetig started a movement to adopt the salmon as a B.C. icon; now we ask you to add your support by requesting a permanent place for the Pacific salmon in our pantheon of symbols of our province.[…read full article]

With all of these stories about salmon in the newspapers recently, it appears that the population agrees with Campognolo’s assessment. Salmon means a lot of things to a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons in this province – everything from a simple food source to an integral part of one’s history – and the recent debates in the news are signifiers that everyone believes that salmon are important and that they know best how to preserve them. As long as these debates are raging, perhaps Campognolo is right and the first step is one that everyone can agree on – recognizing the importance of the wild salmon to all people on the coast by making it the next provincial symbol.

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