Editorial: Put conservation of wild salmon first

We support the work of community hatcheries, but building larger and more salmon hatcheries shouldn't be the goal of any wild salmon plan

Salmon conservation groups are hitting back against the new Made in B.C. Wild Salmon Strategy — and with good reason.

While hatchery-raised salmon are important for restoring vital creeks and streams, salmon raised in a hatchery in no way replace wild salmon, and hatchery programs shouldn’t be given equal weight to other strategies for a long-term plan to save wild salmon.

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We have long supported programs in the Tri-Cities that help educate children and adults about the importance of wild salmon. These programs are critical for teaching people about the importance of salmon as a keystone species, with research showing that people who know about salmon will care about them more. As well, hatchery salmon are important for revitalizing the natural habitat and supporting animals that feed off them. A healthy creek, stream or river is also good for wild salmon.

But there were years when nobody cared. Through the 1960s and 1970s, salmon were considered secondary to industry, housing development and hydro power, which resulted in the decline of local waterways.

Thankfully, we have local groups such as the Burrard Inlet Marine Enhancement Society, the Hoy-Scott Creek Watershed Society, the Hyde Creek Watershed Society and the Port Moody Ecological Society, which have restored their creeks, and the PoCo and District Hunting and Fishing Club and the Kwikwetlem First Nation, which have promoted salmon enhancement in the Coquitlam River.

But while these programs are important — including promoting sockeye passage in the Coquitlam River — scaling up large hatchery programs in the province that could compete with wild salmon is not the solution to improving salmon runs, which have been in a calamitous decline.

Concerns about this possibility have been raised by groups such as the Watershed Watch Society and several SFU professors. They note that large-scale hatcheries could spread disease and increase fishing, which could then jeopardize wild salmon populations.

Our position is that small-scale community hatcheries are important but the new Made in B.C. Wild Salmon Strategy should stress policies and laws that promote habitat protection and restoration, including work to improve water quality, and deal with climate change.

We also support the recommendations for more data and research, monitoring and enforcement to improve the chances of wild salmon survival now and into the future.

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