With the help of our supporters, 2018 was a monumental year for Watershed Watch Salmon Society. Here is an overview of the year’s accomplishments.

Safe Passage for Wild SalmonGetting fish farms off of wild salmon migration routes

After two decades of fighting B.C.’s reckless salmon farming industry, 2018 was a pivotal year. The conditions were set by the mass escape of over 300,000 farmed Atlantic salmon in Puget Sound, Tavish Campbell’s viral video of virus-infected farmed salmon bloodwater, new science, and First Nations occupations of salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago, a scathing report by the Auditor General, and then a legislated ban on salmon farms in Washington State, making BC the only jurisdiction on the west coast of North America to still allow this industry to persist. With dozens of provincial salmon farm tenures set to expire, and a new provincial government open to mitigating the salmon farm threat, we went all-in.

The highlights:

  • Continued providing technical support to Broughton Area First Nations in their government-to-government negotiations with the Province regarding the fate of 20 expired farm tenures in the Nations’ territories.
  • Helped secure passage of two resolutions at the Union of B.C. Municipalities calling for the removal of salmon farms from wild salmon migration routes.
  • Continued to chair the Conservation Regulatory Working Group—a collaboration of conservation groups working together to defend wild salmon from salmon farms.
  • Published two papers exposing the federal government’s gaming of science to delay action.
  • Led the development of the Declaration in Defence of BC’s Wild Salmon, found at SafeSalmon.ca, calling for the removal of open net-pen salmon farms.
  • Worked with allies at Living Oceans Society and Georgia Strait Alliance to secure dozens of high-profile endorsements of the Safe Salmon declaration (First Nations, sport & commercial fishers, business leaders, mayors & city councillor, etc.)
  • Organized 3 successful rallies at MLA offices in Victoria, Port Moody, and Courtenay.
  • Helped oversee the development and operation of the Safe Salmon website and Facebook page, resulting in 14,000+ signatures, 1200+ citizen phone calls to MLAs and the Premier’s office, 6000+ Facebook followers, making over 2.5 million impressions on over 1.6 million unique Facebook users, all over a 2-month period.
  • These efforts, combined those of many First Nations and other fierce allies, culminated in a substantial provincial policy shift in June 2018 requiring expiring tenures to not be renewed without  consent of host First Nations.
  • We are working with allies to re-tool the Safe Salmon machine & unleash it on the feds in 2019.

Defend the Heart of the Fraser—Halting over-development and securing long-term protection for vital salmon and sturgeon habitat

This summer we jumped headfirst into a campaign with allies at the BC Wildlife Federation, BC Rivers Institute, and others, to rally public support and secure long term protection for that ecologically important stretch of the Fraser between Mission and Hope. When we started in July, development permits for Herrling and Carey Islands were considered “imminent”.

Here are the highlights:

  • Watershed Watch built a petition website (HeartoftheFraser.ca), letter writing tool and Facebook page, and blasted it out to educate citizens and mobilize support for protecting the islands.  
  • An ample advertising budget made possible by a generous donor allowed us to gather over 5000 petition signatures in 3 months, and citizens sent around 1500 letters to Minister Doug Donaldson.
  • The Facebook page had a total reach of over 1.1 million impressions.
  • It is now November; no permits have been granted, and we are cautiously optimistic that our continued efforts will lead to the islands being protected in perpetuity.

Connected Waters—Reconnecting and restoring vast and vital salmon habitat in the lower Fraser Valley

Salmon migration and water flow is being cut off to over a thousand kilometres of formerly productive habitat in the lower Fraser Valley. Dikes, floodgates, and pump stations were built to control flooding without consideration for salmon and aquatic ecosystem health. The affected sloughs, creeks and side channels used to provide important refuge for juvenile salmon from throughout the Fraser Watershed as they made their way to sea. As aging flood control structures are replaced, we are demanding systemic change: broad, mandated accommodation of ecological values such as fish passage and improved habitat and water quality behind the dikes. .

Highlights from 2018:

  • Lobbied hard, meeting with MPs, MLAs, ministers, mayors, city councillors, First Nation leaders, scientists, government managers, and more.
  • Succeeded in getting the Union of BC Municipalities to pass a resolution calling on the Province to get serious about fish-friendly flood control.
  • Secured endorsement of the Connected Waters campaign from the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance, which represents over 30 First Nations in the lower Fraser area.
  • After mapping the extent of the problem for the first time (see map), we mapped and ground-truthed additional data sets, and conducted water quality sampling, to help identify the highest-priority waterways for restoration.
  • Held several clean-ups and canoe tours of key waterways and continued our on-the-ground flagship restoration project on Katzie Slough.
  • Secured commitment from City of Pitt Meadows to put in fish-friendly upgrade at Kennedy Pump Station.

Fishing Smarter—Changing the way we fish for salmon in BC, so we can harvest abundant salmon populations while conserving and rebuilding the depleted ones

Our changing climate is decreasing the abundance and diversity of salmon in B.C., while increasing the volatility of returns. DFO’s approach to fishery management must be upended to work in our new climate reality.  Innovations in fishing gear and methods can allow us to dramatically reduce the impacts of our fisheries on endangered salmon runs. So can a transition from mixed stock to known stock fisheries. But federal fishery managers continue to put fisheries ahead of fish. Working with First Nations and other forward-thinking harvesters, we are leading the push for a management regime founded on sustainable principles tested over millenia—one that is robust to climate-forced changes in freshwater and marine environments.

2018 highlights:

  • Continued representing the public conservation interest at fishery management tables, in collaboration with allies at SkeenaWild, Raincoast, Pacific Streamkeepers, David Suzuki Foundation, and the Steelhead Society of BC.
  • Continued supporting the Lake Babine Nation and other First Nations in the Skeena watershed to further develop their rights-based commercial fishing operations. This year, these fisheries harvested a record-breaking two thirds of the total Skeena River sockeye catch.
  • Led a public outreach initiative illustrating how the Lake Babine Nation known-stock fishery is a ‘proof of concept’ on how integrating indigenous principles and knowledge can improve diversity and protect endangered populations while increasing the total commercial catch and the direct and indirect economic and social benefits that flow from the increased catch.
  • Continued to expose irresponsible fishing, especially for endangered Fraser River chinook and sockeye, conducting numerous high-profile media interviews.
  • Led the Marine Conservation Caucus in providing detailed feedback to government on proposed fishing plans and Southern Resident Killer Whale recovery.
  • Submitted extensive evidence to the Marine Stewardship Council in their annual surveillance audit of BC’s commercial salmon fisheries.
  • Watershed Watch’s Fisheries Advisor, Greg Taylor, was appointed chair of the multi-stakeholder Monitoring & Compliance Panel, providing  us with greater influence to improve monitoring and compliance in BC’s fisheries.

Rebuilding—Spurring stronger action to conserve and rebuild at-risk wild salmon populations

Dozens of salmon runs across B.C. are severely depleted and several are now being considered for listing under Canada’s Species At Risk Act. Canada’s Policy for the Conservation of Wild Pacific Salmon provides an excellent blueprint for managing B.C.’s wild salmon, and rebuilding endangered populations, but it has not been implemented. Despite promises to “act on” the recommendations of the $37 million Cohen Commission the feds have done very little. And monitoring programs that track the status of wild salmon runs have been cut to the bone, so we know less than ever about how our salmon are actually doing.

In 2018 we:

  • Engaged heavily in the Southern B.C. Chinook Strategic Planning Initiative, and the recovery planning process for southern resident killer whales, pushing for stronger measures to protect and rebuild depleted chinook stocks (which are the whales’ primary food).
  • Lobbied government to list endangered Fraser River sockeye and steelhead under the Species At Risk Act (consultations are underway and this will be a major focus for us in 2019).
  • Exposed government inaction on implementing the Cohen Commission recommendations.
  • Lobbied government to reverse cuts to on-the-ground stock assessment programs securing a commitment from the Minister’s office to address the situation. This will also be a high priority  for us in 2019.
  • Met with the director of B.C.’s new Wild Salmon Secretariat and provided a lengthy submission, delving into water management, fishery management, habitat restoration, fish-friendly flood control, hatcheries, and more.

Water for Fish—Ensuring adequate water flows for fish and nature in a changing climate

Around the province this summer and fall, salmon streams ran critically low. The frequency and intensity of drought is increasing in B.C. due to climate change and extreme low-water events are killing more of our salmon every year (on average). B.C.’s new Water Sustainability Act provides tools to fight the effects of drought and keep more water in our streams for fish, but these tools are new and mostly have not been put into effect.

In 2018, we:

  • Joined the Canadian Freshwater Alliance and other allies under the banner of OurWaterBC to spur citizen action using the #DefendAgainstDrought letter-writing tool during the summer and fall drought season.
  • Worked with allied groups to develop and submit water management recommendations to the provincial government.
  • Authored 3 op-eds in Vancouver Island papers focusing on local examples of water scarcity and what is needed to address it.
  • Worked with CFA to survey municipal candidates on water management in key communities on Vancouver Island and the lower mainland and disseminate the results through social media and emails to our followers in those areas.
  • Worked with experts to collate new data on water scarcity in BC, to be released ahead of the March 2019 deadline for provincial licensing of existing groundwater users.

The Coquitlam Watershed—Restoring sockeye salmon and promoting stronger watershed governance

Coquitlam is our home base and we have been active in the watershed for our entire 20-year history. We work with the Kwikwetlem First Nation to restore sockeye salmon to the Coquitlam River and are a core member of the Coquitlam River Watershed Roundtable.

In 2018, we:

  • Continued as an active participant in the Kwikwetlem Salmon Restoration Program, including administering the adult trap and transport project that helps any returning adult sockeye get past the Coquitlam dam in the fall.
  • Continued a multi-year project assessing the feasibility of hatchery supplementation to develop a self-sustaining sockeye population in the Coquitlam River.
  • Continued as the fiscal sponsor for the Coquitlam Watershed Roundtable, ramping up work on issues identified in the Lower Coquitlam River Watershed Plan to tackle invasive species in the watershed, and working with developers to define and implement best practices.
  • Recognized by the City of Coquitlam with a lifetime achievement award in recognition of the work we’ve done in Coquitlam over the past 20 years.

Building an empowered wild salmon constituency—Organizing citizens and giving them tools to defend wild salmon

Across B.C., we hear people say that wild salmon are the lifeblood of this province. We know from public opinion polls that a large majority of British Columbians share our values around conserving and rebuilding wild salmon. But in order to effect meaningful change, it isn’t enough for professional conservation advocates like us to shout from the rooftops about what needs to be done. We need the masses of citizens who care about salmon to shout with us.

Over the last year, in addition to the citizen-organizing activities listed above, we:

  • Hired four summer students who organized volunteers and engaged with thousands of citizens at dozens of public events in the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island, getting hundreds of them to join our calls to action.
  • Broke the 10,000 mark on our email contact list; added over 1500 new Facebook followers; and nearly 1000 new Instagram followers.
  • Continued producing our weekly Salmon News media roundups for our followers.
  • Including our work with allies on the Safe Salmon and Defend the Heart of the Fraser campaigns, built and mobilized lists of over 20,000 citizens to stand up for wild salmon.

Thank you for your support and we will see you in 2019!

The Watershed Watch Team.