Opinion

GUEST COLUMN: Fraser River salmon runs at risk

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Fraser River Salmon is a B.C. icon.

As important to B.C. residents, in fact, as the French language is to people in Quebec.

At least that’s what 70% of people said in a poll commissioned by the Watershed Watch Salmon Society and Skeena Wild Conservation Trust.

Indeed, salmon is ever present in our lives.

It is central to many aboriginal cultural traditions. Crucial to generations of commercial fishers. It’s delicious and nutritious, and a source of enjoyment for sports fishers. As well, it’s a symbol for the abundant and pristine environment we enjoy in this province.

But are we aware of the essential role salmon play in giving balance to our ecosystem?

Scientists have evidence that suggests salmon are an important link in the nutrient cycle of Fraser River Basin ecosystem. Rivers carry nutrients and sediments from one area to another, creating an essential link between land and sea.

As freshwater moves downstream, it carries nutrients along with it.

These nutrients may dissolve or move as particles in the water. Many of these nutrients enter the ocean where they act as fertilizers in the marine environment.

But once nutrients reach the ocean they’re not lost from the rivers and the inland watershed forever.

When they spawn, salmon bring back nutrients from the Pacific Ocean that feed many species in the ecosystem.

Think of migrating salmon as a conveyor belt. They deliver nutrients from the ocean back to freshwater streams.

After they spawn and die, their carcasses feed the soil and plants, and animals like bears “transport” their nutrients into the forests. This crucial role defines salmon as a keystone species for our ecosystem. If you imagine ecosystem as an archway, the salmon is the keystone that holds it all together.

Without it, the arch would crumble.

As we know, the perfectly orchestrated natural occurrence of salmon migration is under threat. Wild fluctuations in numbers of spawning salmon in the past few years are cause for grave concern.

Among the many possible reasons, global warming provides a fairly straightforward explanation. Salmon are a picky fish that like water temperatures below 20° Celsius.

But milder winters and warmer summers in B.C. have serious implications for the health of the Fraser River and its salmon.

University of the Fraser Valley research, as part of the Global Rivers Project, shows temperatures in the Fraser getting closer to the critical 20° Celsius.

In some regions and at certain times of the year, temperatures have already surpassed that number, threatening the existence of these salmon runs.

Just one more reason to do everything we can, individually and globally, to slow global warming.

Catherine Ouellet-Martin is executive director of the Fraser River Discovery Centre.

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