Certain events bring the effects of our changing climate into stark relief. Last week, the M/V Franciscan, a well-known local 63’ seine boat, was loaded onto a carrier bound for Russia, where it had been sold.
The Franciscan was built in British Columbia in 1978 by Manly Shipyards under the Second Narrows Bridge for a long-standing and respected fishing family, the Brajcich’s. The Franciscan fished through the heyday of B.C.’s salmon and herring fisheries. Through the 1980s and 1990s, the Franciscan, loaded with salmon or herring, regularly sailed up Vancouver Harbour to deliver to the now gone J.S. MacMillan’s fish plant.
As salmon and herring runs began to decline, Paul Brajcich embraced change. He worked with leaders in industry, academics, and others to investigate methods where seines could fish more selectively, enabling them to harvest the more abundant salmon species while safely releasing the less abundant. But the decline in BC’s salmon and herring populations left him little choice but to leave the industry he, and his father before him, loved.
While most of the North Pacific warms and becomes less hospitable to salmon, salmon populations are increasing in warming Siberian waters, once too cold for salmon. The same changes the Brajcichs confronted are also being faced by fishermen in Japan. Salmon abundance is declining across the Pacific Ocean, other than in far north Siberian and Alaskan waters.
2019 was one of the worst years ever recorded for B.C. salmon, and DFO scientists say they expect 2020 to be similar or worse. In the last five years, we have experienced significant drought conditions, lower than normal snowpacks, and earlier than normal freshets. This, DFO biologists warn us, combined with loss of forest canopy due to fire, pine beetle and logging has pushed a number of streams over the tipping point.
Although DFO biologists and researchers are warning us to expect low returns, DFO managers are actively planning 2020 fisheries with a business-as-usual approach.
There are ways to fish that respect salmon being the centerpiece of B.C.’s coastal and interior ecosystems. We need to shift to highly selective fishing methods and locations that harvest abundant salmon runs while having little or no impact on the endangered ones.
Climate change is affecting wild salmon, and we, as a society, must face the question, do we continue to fish as we have always done until they are all gone, or do we begin now to take measures to help them survive these changes?