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Wild salmon on the verge of extinction

Wednesday, June 25th 2008 2:44:20pm

To the Editor:

This is an article from Andrew Wright. Word count is approximately 653 words. Select photos of Mr. Wright’s photography work may be available upon request. Mr. Wright can be contacted at 604.733.8599 or

I first visited the Broughton Archipelago in the summer of 1990. I had recently emigrated from England and drove two days straight from Calgary to visit this special place. Robson Bight, famed for its orca 'rubbing beach' and known internationally as a place of immense natural wonder, is the gateway to the archipelago. It was glorious to paddle a kayak in the company of bears and whales and to witness the source of energy in this productive bio-system, directly attributable to thriving salmon, numbering in the millions.

This spring I returned to a very different archipelago.

This visit afforded me the dubious privilege of bearing witness to a species on the cusp of extinction. At the turn of the last century, without due care or diligence, without examining the loss and damage that had occurred in European waters, the government of B.C. permitted salmon fish farms to be introduced into the Broughton. Now, a decade later, we have rampant sea lice in the farm population that has spread directly to the wild salmon population. Sadly, the wild juveniles rapidly succumb to sea lice, for they are not yet provisioned with scales and a layer of much-needed armour.

This situation is dire and compounded by a negligent bureaucracy that has permitted wide-scale use of Slice (not approved for use in open oceans and systems), a highly potent neurotoxin, to help control the sea lice in the farm population. Unfortunately, Slice, combined with fecal effluent and excess feedstock from the fish farms, has rendered the ocean floor fallow and barren for many miles around each farm. There has been widespread observation of tumours and parasitic infections in flat fish caught in the region.

Last year, the Broughton's Meetup River only returned 89 chum salmon; historical averages had been in excess of twenty thousand fish. This river is now devoid of fish, its unique genetic salmon strain extinct. The number of adult salmon returning to their ancestral birth rivers in the entire Broughton ecosystem is now in free fall and following the history of the river. How many adult fish will return this year and in the years to come?

British Columbia's government displays a wanton disregard for the bounty this coast affords and the generosity provided by the salmon cycle. If any one of our politicians stood in a barren Scottish river they might have cause to pause and engage in a logical, intellectually honest and rational line of reasoning that could only conclude in the permanent discontinuance of fish farms.

As a passionate photographer of the natural world, I decided to create a classic, fine art black and white, lightly toned print reminiscent of the shells, flowers and fish of the great 20th century photographic masters. These prints, if you have ever had the good fortune of seeing them, directly draw the viewer in with their beauty. I wanted to create the same emotional response, except as one gets drawn into the beauty of the fish, you face the full horror of the sea lice. I have included the image for reference.

Bearing witness to a species on the cusp of extinction is indeed a dubious privilege and the experience, combined with the making of this image, has left me deeply angry. I am angry for so many reasons - at the intransigence of the B. C. government and DFO officials who are charged with protecting this coast; for the thousands of hours that many well-informed scientists, researchers, conservationists and eco-campaigners have committed to educate this government - yet to no avail; that I am impotent to effect a change; that it is unlikely my children will be able to take their children to an abundant and bio- productive Broughton. It is an anger that endures.

The evidence is clear and the science is sound. What more will it take for our politicians to assume leadership and make the necessary changes on the coast?

Andrew Wright
Hood Point