Wild Salmon Collapse Hardly a Mystery


COUNTERPOINT: Wild salmon collapse hardly a mystery

Published October 30, 2014 - 5:31pm
Last Updated October 30, 2014 - 5:58pm

Re: "Source of N.S. salmon decline elusive," (Oct. 13). While I commend your Truro correspondent for penning an article on the ongoing precipitous decline of wild Atlantic salmon in Nova Scotia, the headline and the story leave the erroneous impression that the reasons for the steady extirpation of this amazing species are not well understood. This is entirely wrong.

During a lifetime of wild salmon conservation work, I've learned first-hand that the main reason for the precipitous losses of wild stocks is a habitual lack of political will to respond in any meaningful or effective way to the crisis.

While it is true that we do seem to have a smolt survival problem at sea that is not yet well understood, we have very clear and well-understood issues that successive governments at both levels have for decades blithely refused to act to mitigate. The primary responsibility for migratory Atlantic salmon management lies with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, whose record on this file can only be described as a dereliction of duty on an epic scale, rivalled only by the politically tainted calamitous failure of the northern cod stocks due to chronic mismanagement.

The abuses of this iconic species and its habitat in this province are many, and include sloppy logging practices, but two really stand out. (Bear in mind that in the mid-'60s Nova Scotia still had about 72 healthy salmon-bearing streams.)

We have now lost all or part of at least 17 major systems due to acid precipitation. In Norway, more than 40 rivers were impacted by acid rain from Eastern Europe. Most have been successfully protected because the government of Norway has for decades been investing more than $20 million annually liming its acidified watersheds, and the lucrative sport fishery has been salvaged.

Although the Norwegians have done the heavy lifting pioneering liming techniques, and the technology and know-how has long been readily available, the government of Canada has not lifted a finger or expended a nickel to combat the ravages of the acidification of Nova Scotia's rivers.

Every single salmon stream draining into the Bay of Fundy - 10 in New Brunswick and 23 in Nova Scotia - has suffered a catastrophic wild stock loss of more than 40,000 fish that commenced in the late '60s. This environmental disaster of global proportions followed, by about a decade, the development of net-pen salmon aquaculture in the Bay of Fundy and the escape into the wild of hundreds of thousands (more than 400,000 in a single year) of genetically inferior non-wild salmon, which then invaded those rivers.

The circumstances and the timing mirror the dramatic wild salmonid declines in Norway, western Scotland and western Ireland pursuant to the development of the pen-raised salmon industry and is considered, even by DFO scientists (before they were muzzled) to be highly suspect as a key contributing factor in the loss of 23 Nova Scotia rivers as salmon streams.

For those of us who care - it's an appalling and shameful record. Those of you who don't really consider it a big deal may wish to consider how your children and grandchildren might fare living on a planet where a robust and powerful species like Atlantic salmon cannot survive.

We can only hope at this time, as we peer into the abyss for wild Atlantic salmon, that enough concern, anger and noise will be generated to shame those who posture as "leaders" to finally act.

Jim Gourlay, Cloverdale