Worry for our Waters

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Administrator
Staff member
By Abby Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Lee George stands on the bank of the Tla’amin Creek, his baseball cap dampening in the light July rain. The ground he stands on is muddy. He scans the river, looking for
coho fry.
Just a few inches of water flow
over the rocky creek.
A few tiny fish swim by.
Lee, who has managed this hatchery since about 1990, is worried about the level of the water, the heat. What will it do to this year’s salmon?
A month later, in September, Tla’amin Hegus John Hackett confirmed that the Nation bought 900 salmon at the end of the summer. These fish went to the Elders. He also explained that administration is working on finding alternatives to traditional foods to help save the salmon, while keeping our culture alive.
With the Fraser Valley salmon numbers much lower than they should be, how is the qathet Region’s fish count in comparison?
Here, this summer’s extraordinary heat waves meant Lee, as well as hatchery operators Leonard Harry and Vern Wilson, were worried about salmon fry dying in the river. Lee says that as of August 20, Tla’amin Nation was asked to comply with the province-wide closure of fisheries to help boost the sockeye numbers. Tla’amin agreed.
However, even with slightly higher numbers of salmon returning, compared to last year, the province will continue to protect the salmon by limiting commercial fishing. Even Tla’amin is continuing to prohibit catching sockeye for food, ceremonial and social purposes.
It wasn’t just the heat wave, explains hatchery manager Lee.
“Over the years, numbers of fish have been declining due to overfishing of commercial herring and sockeye fisheries,” he says. “We are also dealing with other issues on top of overfishing, like climate change. Low water flows and high water temperatures are the fishes’ worst enemies.
“When the water warms up, it dilutes the oxygen and creates fungus leading to sickness in the salmon, resulting in them dying off before being able to spawn their eggs.
“We have to think outside the box and ask ourselves what do the salmon need in order to multiply. Clean, healthy, cool water. No pollution. No disruption for returning salmon. And control of the access to the commercial fisheries.”
The Fraser River estuary – where the ocean connects to the river – is surrounded by new industrial sites, creating more and more problems for the salmon returning each year.
Current law claims to prioritize escapement of salmon to spawn before anything else, but Lee says it doesn’t deliver. “They have been doing this backwards for years. This allows a commercial fish before salmon have reached their spawning streams. Someone needs to rewrite the book on declining salmon in British Columbia and send it to the fisheries minister.”
Indeed, there is hope, and it’s local.
Shortly after the salmon commissions’ announcement that sockeye returns are shockingly low, Tla’amin Nation released its new Watershed Protection Plan. Watersheds are areas of land that drain surface and groundwater into another body of water such as a river or ocean.
This plan will look to protect watershed health, for drinking water quality, but also for the aquatic habitats that are home to fish and provide for other creatures. The hope is for this to become a living document, so that it can continue to be planned, to suit whatever needs the watersheds are depending on.
A couple of these now-protected local watershed areas are Theodosia River and Powell River. Once home to Tla’amin villages, these rivers housed millions of spawning salmon. However, dams have been built on both of these areas, and because of that, the salmon...continued.

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