Resource: Action and Results – Highlights from 2020
For many of us, 2020 has been the most disruptive and difficult year in recent memory. It has also been one of the worst years ever for B.C.’s wild salmon, with record low returns in rivers across the province. One thing the pandemic has made clear, is that in troubled, insecure times like these, our wild salmon and rivers provide a form of security and solace we depend on. Going into nature with our families, appreciating the seasonal cycles of our rivers and salmon; these are experiences worth defending as much today as they were in the “before times.” Perhaps more so. That is why, as the pandemic took hold and things got strange and tough, we kept on standing up for B.C.’s wild salmon. This is a summary of what we have been up to so far this year. Your support continues to make this work possible.
The Watershed Watch team
Safe Passage for Salmon—Getting fish farms off wild salmon migration routes
We kept up the pressure on B.C.’s fish farm industry in 2020. The historic “Broughton Agreement” between First Nations and the provincial government proceeded according to plan. Five farms have been removed, with one more to be removed by the end of 2020. In 2023, all 17 farms could be gone from this important salmon-producing part of B.C. While the Broughton Archipelago farm removal is a good news story, this dangerous industry continues to operate and threaten wild salmon in other parts of B.C. and we are pushing back, shoulder to shoulder with many allies. Here’s how we did that in 2020:
- We continued to connect with thousands of British Columbians, helping them take action for wild salmon. We helped our followers submit over 2,000 emails to the federal government regarding its consultation on the Aquaculture Act. This public outcry helped get salmon farming-related commitments included in all major federal party election platforms. The elected Trudeau government even promised to transition B.C.’s salmon farms away from open-net pen systems by 2025.
- Our feisty Safe Salmon campaign (in collaboration with other groups) and Facebook page has grown to over 22,000 followers.
- We organized campaigns with businesses, First Nations, NGOs and citizens, bringing pressure onto the federal government to remove salmon farms from the Discovery Islands by Sept 30, 2020, as per the Cohen Commission recommendations. We critiqued the federal government’s decision and garnered print and TV news stories. We organized citizens to make over 600 phone calls and send over 3,500 emails to their MPs.
- We provided technical and science help to the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation in support of their federal legal rights and title case that challenges the federal government’s decision to issue fish farm licences in Dzawada’enuxw First Nation’s territory.
- We helped several First Nations with salmon farms in their territories to monitor farm impacts and press farming companies and government to address problems. We also provided communications support to First Nations raising concerns about the risk of salmon farms to wild salmon.
- We continued to chair the Conservation Regulatory Working Group—a collaboration of conservation groups working together to defend wild salmon from salmon farms. The working group engaged with DFO on the development of an Aquaculture Act and better management of salmon farm impacts (e.g., sea lice).
- Looking ahead, we will:
- Continue to support the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation’s legal challenge of fish farms in their territory by assisting with evidence preparation, expert witness selection, and communications;
- Continue to work with national groups to engage with the federal government on the development of an Aquaculture Act and keeping their promise to transition open-net salmon farms out of B.C.;
- Hold the newly re-elected BC NDP government to their promise to expand the Broughton process (of removing fish farms in collaboration with First Nations) to other areas of the coast; and
- Mobilize more citizens to hold elected officials to account for harmful salmon farming practices.
Water for Fish—Ensuring healthy watersheds in a changing climate
This has been a revolutionary year in our advocacy for clean flowing water and healthy watersheds. While the threats kept coming—logging, mining, fracking, over-extraction of water, and the ravages of climate change—we worked with our allies to build a large and powerful network of citizens, businesses and organizations across B.C. who are standing up for their home waters. As part of B.C.’s pandemic recovery effort to “build back better,” we pushed the Province to invest in clean water and wild salmon. We are amazed at what we have achieved in less than a year:
- In January, we launched Code Blue BC with our partners at the Canadian Freshwater Alliance. Code Blue BC is a plan to secure and sustain B.C.’s fresh water sources forever, and is endorsed by diverse champions from around the province. Code Blue BC supports British Columbians to stand up against threats to our fresh water and promotes a common set of solutions. In only a few months, over 7,000 people signed up to support the Code Blue plan and sent 2,775 letters to MLAs and 160 letters to party leaders during the election. The Code Blue BC Facebook page has nearly 20,000 followers, and in several months this year, its total engagement (likes, shares and comments) was greater than all three of B.C.’s major political parties, combined.
- We continued supporting Our Water BC, a network of grassroots community groups protecting and restoring their home watersheds across the province.
- We launched a major study with university researchers looking at the effects of clearcut logging on flooding and its impacts on river ecosystems and fish habitat.
- In April, we joined several prominent conservation groups to form the BC Watershed Security Coalition, calling on the provincial and federal governments for stronger action to protect and restore B.C.’s watersheds, better monitoring of water and habitat, and support for community and First Nations leadership to steward our shared waters.
- We lobbied hard, meeting with Premier Horgan (twice!), key cabinet ministers, many MLAs and senior officials, and writing op-eds, making the case for strong investments in watershed security and restoration. Our efforts got results:
- In their fall 2020 fiscal update, the B.C. government announced $27 million for watershed and wetland restoration projects (including many that will benefit wild salmon).
- In the fall election, all three major parties made commitments to watershed security. The BC NDP, who won a majority, committed to creating a watershed security strategy and fund to support “Indigenous, local, and regionally led clean water initiatives” and “watershed restoration, monitoring, technology, training, and education.”
- Looking ahead we will:
- Hold the B.C. government to their election promises and work with them to ensure measurable results on the ground in our watersheds (and not just more talk);
- Continue supporting on-the-ground research on the effects of clearcut logging on river ecosystems; and
- Continue leading the Code Blue BC campaign and BC Watershed Security Coalition with our allies—growing our supporter base so our voices will grow even stronger in the halls of power.
Connected Waters—Restoring habitat and improving flood control
It’s the biggest habitat issue that many people have never heard of. Over 1500 km of salmon habitat in the lower Fraser are still blocked by obsolete flood control structures and we are leading the charge to change that. Though this year’s fieldwork plans were quashed by the pandemic, we swiftly pivoted to ensuring fish-friendly flood control and habitat restoration were on the radar of politicians planning economic stimulus measures. With heightened public concern over physical safety and food security, salmon-safe flood control is a no-brainer for creating jobs, rebuilding wild salmon and making communities safer in the face of climate change. We continued a multi-pronged approach of advocacy to all levels of government, public engagement, strategic research, and identifying and implementing on-the-ground solutions through our Resilient Waters research and restoration project. We have many successes to show:
- We advanced salmon-safe flood control and habitat restoration as an economic stimulus priority, meeting with Premier Horgan, multiple provincial and federal cabinet ministers, government staff, MLAs, MPs and city councillors, advocating for a “build back better” approach to flood management.
- Our three letter-writing campaigns generated nearly 4,000 letters from citizens calling for nature-focused flood management and the associated infrastructure investments.
- We continued as core advisors and supporters for the Resilient Waters project that we started last year at MakeWay Canada and continue to help lead. The project is scoping the best opportunities for improving salmon passage and habitat at flood control structures in the lower Fraser and working to get these projects up and running.
- The project team analyzed over 150 sites, mapped a shortlist of 25 high-priority projects that would open up 63 hectares of fish habitat, and is now working with First Nations and municipalities to fund and initiate the best of these projects.
- Several of these sites were highlighted as top contender projects for funding under the $27M we helped secure for watershed and wetland restoration projects in the B.C. government’s fall fiscal update.
- We continued work at our flagship restoration site along Katzie Slough, tending native plants, removing invasives and monitoring water quality.
- Working with lawyers at Ecojustice, we raised legal objections with the City of Pitt Meadows about their ongoing killing of fish in obsolete flood pumps along Katzie Slough.
- We worked with local government leaders to secure a resolution from the Lower Mainland Local Government Association calling on the provincial government to support salmon-safe flood control and secured a recommendation from the B.C. government’s budget committee for salmon-safe flood control to be funded in BC Budget 2021.
- We hosted an online Lower Mainland Farm Stewardship Forum to find flood control solutions that work for both farmers and fish. The event was attended by farmers and farmer associations such as the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC, the BC Dairy Association and the Ministry of Agriculture.
- Looking ahead, we will:
- Lobby the B.C. government to ensure action on their election promises around restoring salmon habitat, and that Budget 2021 supports salmon-safe flood control;
- Continue to achieve on-the-ground solutions through the Resilient Waters project, working with lower Fraser First Nations and municipalities to get salmon-safe flood structures installed and restore important habitats, and engaging local residents and stakeholders in the work; and
- Keep exposing fish kills at old pump stations and working at our flagship restoration projects.
Fishing Smarter—So our grandkids can fish, too
We continue to be one of B.C.’s foremost advocates for more sustainable salmon fishing. Fishing is a deeply cherished pastime, a source of employment, and when the salmon are abundant, a source of food security. The combination of record-low salmon returns and the pandemic made this an especially difficult year in the fishing world. There is strong pressure from fishing sectors to allow depleted runs to be overfished, and increase hatchery production, despite the risks to wild salmon. Rebuilding our wild salmon runs, or even allowing them to persist in the face of climate change, requires major changes in how we manage and monitor our fisheries. In 2020:
- We continued representing the public conservation interest at fishery management tables, coordinating the efforts of the Pacific Marine Conservation Caucus (nine conservation groups with the responsibility of providing fisheries and management advice to DFO). Our science and policy experts sat on the Integrated Harvest Planning Committee, the Southern Resident Killer Whale Prey Availability working group, and the Southern BC Chinook Committee and its technical working group.
- We evaluated and spoke out publicly about the results of DFO’s 2019 management actions for southern B.C. Chinook, documenting how DFO failed to abide by their own science and policy, exceeding fishing mortality targets for endangered Fraser Chinook by over 200 per cent.
- We developed a mathematical model to estimate fishery-related mortalities of released endangered Chinook under different fishing scenarios. These estimates were then used in official estimates of total mortalities.
- We wrote a strategic plan for the management of south coast recreational Chinook fisheries consistent with conserving and recovering endangered Chinook salmon.
- We provided detailed public updates on the status of salmon returns and fisheries.
- We kept applying pressure to DFO for better catch reporting, compliance monitoring and enforcement in all salmon fisheries.
- We demanded independent monitoring in a notorious industrial fishery in the heart of B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest known to intercept large numbers of fish from depleted populations.
- We lobbied federal and provincial politicians on all of the above, including multiple letters to the Fisheries Minister, conversations with Members of Parliament, and an appearance before the Parliamentary Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.
- We raised public awareness about the risks of salmon hatcheries to wild salmon, including through an op-ed in the Vancouver Province.
- We pressed the newly-elected provincial government not to repeat past mistakes on developing a provincial wild salmon strategy, especially in regards to their support for industrial salmon ranching.
- We continued supporting Lake Babine Nation and other First Nations pursuing sustainable stock-selective fisheries, including helping the Secwepemc Nation access Babine sockeye to alleviate the food fish shortage in their community.
- Looking ahead, we will:
- Continue representing the public conservation interest at management tables—pushing for more selective fishing practices, better catch and release reporting, compliance monitoring, enforcement, and proper accounting for all sources of fishing mortality in all salmon fisheries;
- Press for rebuilding plans for endangered populations as required under federal laws and policies;
- Ensure the B.C. government does not repeat past mistakes regarding its wild salmon strategy, including its continued support for industrial hatchery production;
- Further raise public awareness around the risks salmon hatcheries pose to wild salmon, and press the provincial and federal governments to put wild salmon first;
- Advance a strategy for a sustainable south coast recreational Chinook fishery that allows for the recovery of depressed populations, in collaboration with fishers and other stakeholders; and
- Advance the importance of addressing the climate emergency as a critical element in conserving and recovering wild salmon.
Coquitlam—Watching out for wild salmon in our hometown
Watershed Watch Salmon Society began in the Coquitlam home office of our co-founder, Dr. Craig Orr. While our team has grown and we are now engaged on issues across the province, Coquitlam will always be our home. We focus mainly on the Kwikwetlem Salmon Restoration Program, and on supporting the Coquitlam River Watershed Roundtable, which coordinates and implements activities to promote the long-term sustainability of the Coquitlam River.
Kwikwetlem Salmon Restoration Program (KSRP)
- A major aim of the program is to re-introduce sockeye to the Coquitlam River, after they were wiped out by the construction of the dam. Despite ongoing efforts, only two sockeye were captured in the trap in 2020 and released into the reservoir. Though not a lot of fish, it is the most we have had return in 6 years.
- On a bright note, wild adult coho returned to the upper reservoir for the first time in 115 years. The KSRP, with support from Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Salmonid Enhancement Program, Kwikwetlem Nation, Metro Vancouver, the Grist Goeson Memorial Hatchery, and the Port Coquitlam and District Hunting and Fishing Club, captured 54 adult coho (28 males and 26 females) in the lower river and released them to hopefully spawn in Cedar Creek. A release of several thousand coho smolts is planned for spring 2021.
- In preparation for September’s increased flows, we installed a new fence, strong enough to withstand the higher water volume. It is working well and the trap is still catching fish – just not sockeye. The team has been catching adult pink, Chinook and chum.
Coquitlam River Watershed Roundtable (CRWR)
- We collaborated with the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre and the Coquitlam River Watershed Roundtable on a comprehensive legal analysis titled “Reducing Water Extraction and Increasing Environmental Flows in the Coquitlam River.” This report offers a range of strategies for advancing implementation of the Lower Coquitlam River Watershed Plan, and ultimately improving the river for wild salmon.
- The CRWR successfully secured core support from different sectors including recreation, development and industry. Interest in roundtable participation seems to be growing.
- Due to COVID 19, all public gatherings have been cancelled or postponed until further notice. Nevertheless, the CRWR found a creative way to guide folks to some of our favourite spots. In August, the roundtable coordinator took a small film crew to eight locations in the lower watershed, speaking with an expert at each stop. Filming of the Virtual Watershed Tour was completed in August and screened online on World Rivers Day.
- The CRWR hosted a community roundtable webinar on September 19, with live entertainment, guest speakers and opportunities for participants to provide guidance on ways to enhance the ecological function and beauty of the Coquitlam watershed.
Empowering people to stand up for wild salmon
Public opinion polls consistently show overwhelming public support in B.C. for better protection and restoration of wild salmon and their habitats. As a watchdog for wild salmon, our power comes from those many thousands of British Columbians who care as much about our official provincial fish as we do. We are not going to sugar coat it—the pandemic has made it much harder to engage our fellow citizens in the work we do. The film screenings, farmers’ markets, canoe tours, garbage clean-ups and other things that usually bring us together were mostly off the table this year. Nevertheless, we have been making the most of the situation and finding new ways to connect with our supporters. We doubled down on our online engagement and have been continuously testing our social media efforts. Some highlights:
- We significantly increased our social media followings, including our main Watershed Watch Facebook page, plus those of our various campaigns (Code Blue BC, SafeSalmon, and Defend the Heart of the Fraser). We now have a combined 58,072 followers.
- We continued sending out the Salmon News, our popular weekly roundup of media stories about wild salmon and their habitats.
- We have continued to recruit and connect with volunteers through our Watershed Watch Volunteers Facebook group and our monthly volunteer newsletters and updates. We currently interact with over 800 “hand-raisers” and volunteers.
- We have continued membership in Organizing for Change (OFC)—a coalition of B.C. environmental organizations working together to build public support for environmental initiatives.
- In the run-up to the provincial election, we joined several other members of OFC in calling our supporters with (non-partisan) information to help them get out and vote. We also helped organize a virtual town hall on water and fish.
- COVID-19 pushed us to up our digital game. Since we could not host and attend events, our engagement team found other ways to connect with our supporters and volunteers, including:
- Hosting online Watershed Watch “happy hours” with volunteers and staff;
- Creating an educational resources page on our website;
- Hosting online film screenings of DamNation and The Memory of Fish followed by discussions;
- Holding a socially distant shoreline cleanup (September 23- 24);
- Running a World Rivers Day photo contest ( September 27) with prizes donated by Patagonia Vancouver, Yellow Dog Brewing, master fly-tyer Art Lingren, and others;
- Upping our game on social media, with more videos, and a week-long takeover of the United Nations Biodiversity Instagram feed, showcasing our work to a broader audience.
- Over the past few summers we hired summer students through the Canada Summer Jobs grant program, tasking them primarily with in-person public engagement. This year, given the precautions around public events, we instead hired two multimedia storytellers.
- Looking ahead, our most important job will continue to be engaging, organizing and mobilizing the people of this province to stand up for wild salmon.
Thank you for your support!
We are grateful to be working with you to defend B.C.’s wild salmon!