Pacific Wild Salmon are 'Going the Way of the Grand Banks Cod' New Book Warns

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Author and expert Alex Rose warns that Pacific salmon stocks in the west could face the same dire fate as the northern cod in Newfoundland.

A new book, Who Killed the Grand Banks, raises the alarm over the state of wild Pacific Salmon stocks. Vancouver author Alex Rose devotes several chapters to a crisis that's devastating the coast from California all the way up to Vancouver -- up the Strait of Georgia and beyond.

Rose warns that the fish simply aren't swimming back in the hoped-for numbers and the shortages are historic. Unless things change, he predicts wild salmon stocks such as the magnificent chinook and coho could be decimated to near extinction.

Unconvinced? Consider the following: the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has told 94 native bands that they will have to ration their catch of Fraser River sockeye this year. The commercial sockeye fishery won't likely happen this year on the Fraser, either.

"It breaks my heart to report this," Rose says, "But after two years of interviewing the world's fisheries experts, I believe we're at the tipping point. The Pacific salmon fishery may very well go the way of the Grand Banks cod. When I started to write the book, I had hoped I would never have to draw that conclusion."

"But there are so many eerie and ominous parallels," says Rose. A generation ago, there were so many salmon to be had in Vancouver's English Bay there was an annual salmon derby. "You know, the City of Vancouver even put salmon on its first coat of arms. But in a generation we've gone from unbelievable abundance to a crisis. We take our salmon for granted."

Rose points out the value of the landed catch of wild West Coast salmon; once one of B.C.'s major industries, it has decreased to $60 million. There's clearly something drastic happening. Who Killed the Grand Banks is a clarion call to refocus on the salmon, often regarded as an indicator species because of their unique life cycle and unique geographic reach: they are born in rivers, go to the ocean for years and return to the same riverbed where they were hatched to spawn to die. In essence, the salmon are barometers of the health of both the ocean and our rivers.

Hard-hitting and provocative, the new book harshly criticizes the much-loved hatchery program of the Department of Fisheries & Oceans' Salmon Enhancement Program. In one chapter, he slams DFO as "an agency that couldn't manage a home aquarium."

While researching the book, Rose says, he moved from incredulity to outrage as he uncovered the true story of who is responsible for catastrophic pillaging of the Grand Banks cod, once one of the Great Natural Wonders of the world. In three chapters on

Pacific salmon he warns, this ecological collapse may well happen on Canada's West Coast. Indeed, is already well underway.

The state of Pacific salmon is another alarm bell for us today, signaling environmental and ecosystem destruction. He believes that hatchery programs here on West Coast have been an overall failure because the "man-made" fish go out to sea and compete against wild stocks for food. In many cases, the hatchery fish never make it back anyway. "We must never allow Pacific salmon to go the way of the Grand Banks cod" he says.

"By nature I'm not a doom-and-gloom person," Rose says. "And I reject absolutely melodrama and apocalyptic thinking. But, after two years of research, I can see a day when there are no wild salmon left in the Strait of Georgia. And that day is closer than we might think."

In the book, Roses summarizes the ideas of Daniel Pauly and Peter Pearse, two "wise men" who live in Vancouver. Internationally respected, they say only new ideas can save the wild salmon resource.

The statistics are in and they are grim, particularly for the Strait of Georgia. In 1988, sports fishermen hooked a remarkable one million coho salmon. By the turn of the century, that catch had plummeted to about 10,000 fish. That's starting to look like a collapse.

The author's takeaway message: several species of Pacific wild salmon are in catastrophic decline. And so are we if we don't do more to save this coast's iconic symbol -- a fish that sustains our grizzly bears, bald eagles, killer whales and, if you think about it, our culture.

Alex Rose is a Vancouver-based writer and journalist. An earlier book, Nisga'a: People of the Nass River won the Roderick Haig-Brown B.C. Book Prize. His essay, In Search of Meaning, was shortlisted for Canada's 2005 National Magazine Awards.

For more information, please contact Erika Zupko at 416.236.4433 ext. 53018 or ezupko@wiley.com or contact Kim Plumley at 250.390.9285 or kim@publicitymavens.com

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Erika Zupko

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