By: Craig Orr

July 19, 2024

By: Craig Orr

July 19, 2024

Panarchy Theory eloquently describes how most human and natural systems travel through adaptive cycles of growth, accumulation, restructuring, and release or renewal. 

Take wild salmon. Eggs hatch into juveniles. Juveniles and adults accumulate biomass feeding in coastal and offshore waters. Mature salmon produce eggs, spawn, die, and ultimately release their bodies’ nutrients, nourishing their future offspring and vital wild salmon ecosystems. 

Take Watershed Watch Salmon Society. Spawned in 1997 at a Vancouver kitchen table, formally “hatched” in 1998 with salmon advocacy at its heart and soul, eyes on all things that impact wild salmon. The organization is now well into its 25th year in defence of wild salmon.

I’m fortunate to have been part of Watershed Watch’s journey, inspired and guided by co-founder, Peter Broomhall, one of the greatest salmon advocacy minds, writers and editors on the planet. I’ve witnessed the organization grow from its modest beginnings into the respected and potent iteration of today, accumulating new supporters and staff, new ideas and experiences.

As Pete Broomhall often says, Watershed Watch has spent 25 years now “punching above its weight class.” Originally based in Coquitlam, the organization has long championed the Coquitlam River. Relishing its role as an agent of change, we helped Kwikwetlem First Nation and others push BC Hydro to provide more water for Coquitlam’s now-recovering salmon. Never idle, Watershed Watch further expanded its water for fish advocacy through myriad projects and by working alongside a growing water advocacy community.

The Skway fishwheel is an example of a selective fisheries project we helped launch in the Fraser.

The Skway fishwheel is an example of a selective fisheries project we helped launch in the Fraser.

In 2000, Watershed Watch seized the opportunity to catalyze its selective fishing mandate, when I was invited to serve the B.C. Aboriginal Fisheries Commission as its selective fisheries advisor. In the ensuing three years, Watershed Watch formed powerful relationships with influential Indigenous groups across B.C. also concerned with the fate of wild salmon, and helped those groups launch an unprecedented 50 selective fishing projects.

Though potential salmon farming threats were on our radar even in the early days, few imagined the scope of the problem of massive sea lice infestations on wild juvenile salmon that erupted into the public discourse in 2001. Thanks to its adaptive capacity, and incredible support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Watershed Watch stepped into the fray and has been fighting ever since. 

This farm and others are now gone, a testament to our work.

This farm and others are now gone, a testament to our work.

Though the decades-long fight is not over, we have celebrated major victories for wild salmon alongside First Nations and lawyers we helped to remove salmon farms from the Broughton and Discovery Islands regions.

Throughout our journey, Watershed Watch has been able to enhance its capacity, credibility, and breadth of conservation clout by teaming up with academics, mainly at Simon Fraser University. That included helping organize, finance and run 40-plus Speaking for the Salmon workshops, and assisting salmon conservation academics and graduate students.

Craig and Alex Morton touring the Broughton Archipelago, January 2007

A full accounting of Watershed Watch’s advocacy work and accomplishments over the past 25 years cannot be captured in a single blog. A major part of the story is how Watershed Watch has attracted and retained passionate directors and talented staff—such as current executive director, Aaron Hill – and how its most recent success has been to expand its base of supporters and conservation influencers through engagement organizing.

Aaron Hill on the Kispiox River in 2018.

Aaron Hill on the Kispiox River in 2018.

There are simply too many threats to wild salmon to go it alone. Watershed Watch remains vigilant to those threats, including wilful government neglect, but it takes an army of supporters to help empower its vision, campaigns, and calls to action. It takes all of us together to defend wild salmon.

While it’s uncertain what the next 25 years will bring in the struggle, it’s good to know that Watershed Watch, assisted by myriad supporters, remains on the job. 

Supporters’ tour of the Coquitlam Watershed in 2015 showing many Watershed Watch current, past and future staff. I am kneeling with the backpack in the front centre; Aaron Hill is standing on the far right; and current board chair Rosie Simms’ can be seen peeking out from the back row centre, beneath the power tower.

Supporters’ tour of the Coquitlam Watershed in 2015 showing many Watershed Watch current, past and future staff. I am kneeling with the backpack in the front centre; Aaron Hill is standing on the far right; and current board chair Rosie Simms’ can be seen peeking out from the back row centre, beneath the power tower.