Three threats to Quadra Island wild salmon

On May 12th,  Eileen Sowerby from the Quadra Island Salmon Enhancement Society (QISES) gave the Strathcona Regional District Board a presentation about the three threats to Quadra Island’s wild salmon: salmon farms, logging and climate change

This was originally intended to be a talk in support of the DFO’s decision to phase out the Discovery Island fish farms

Eileen Sowerby of the Quadra Island Salmon Enhancement Society

Notice of motion

It was the second presentation in favour of the DFO decision in a little over two weeks.

After Sowerby left the meeting, Cortes Island Regional Director Noba Anderson gave a notice of motion, “So I was just coming out of the presentation we had at our last board meeting, from a number of wilderness tourism folks in regard to the Discovery Island fish farms. They had a request of the Board and I just wanted to put before us for consideration … The notice of motion is that the SRD support the federal government decision to remove open net pen aquaculture ” 

That notice of motion was seconded by Campbell River Director Charlie Cornfield, a friend of the aquaculture sector, which means there will most likely be another heated debate about fish farms at the May 26th Board meeting. 

threats to Quadra Island's wild salmon - logging in the Hyacinthe watershed
The ‘green-up’ eight years after logging

Quadra Island Salmon Enhancement Society

Meanwhile Eileen Sowerby told Cortes Currents,  “The Quadra Island Salmon Enhancement Society was started forty years ago, to try and help remediate the problems with salmon, bring them back and educate (the public).”

They monitor the salmon in seven creeks south of Quadra Island’s Portage. There are usually Chum and Coho, and occasionally Pink, but there has been no Sockeye runs up Village Bay Creek since 2008. 

“That was because sockeye need the late August rains and we weren’t getting them,” Sowerby explained. “The biggest dangers facing salmon, I think and many people would agree, are climate change, habitat loss and fish farms.” 

threats to Quadra Island's wild salmon - removing the beaver dams
One of the beaver dams that have held water back, so there is some for the summer, for the past 10,000 years

Fish Farms

“We are very grateful to Minister Jordan for finally closing those fish farms in the Discovery Islands, the route that the salmon take when they leave the Fraser, … creeks too, and go up north,” said Sowerby. 

She was kayaking south of the Octopus Islands about seven years ago, when the people with her noticed cloudy particulate matter in the water. They were about 500 metres from a fish farm next to Quadra Island. The particulate matter stretched out to about a kilometre above Beazley Passage, which has “some of the fastest tidal changes on the West Coast.” Her friends paddled across to the salmon farm, where they were told. “it’s really good for the ocean, it’s nitrogen.” 

Sowerby was on board the Marinette, when a group of First Nations leaders sailed around Quadra Island last year. A Chief started yelling to the aquaculture workers, “Leave my fish alone! leave my fish alone!” She picked up the chant, “Leave his fish alone!”

“Meanwhile a little drone from the fish farm was going over our heads, photographing us,” laughed Sowerby.

She does not think it is possible to sustainably farm salmon because they are carnivores, which are being fed smaller fish.

“I think it is like farming wolves, to eat, and feeding them sheep … Unless they can find a better way of doing it, when they move these farms on land, it is going to denude the sea of small fish.” 

This could be what is happening with the herring fisheries, where most of the stocks are so depleted that fishing is no longer viable. Sowerby said about 70% of the catch from Baynes Sound, off Denman Island, goes to either cat food or fish feed. 

According to NOAA fisheries, the percentage of fish used in salmon feed has dropped from 70%, in 1980, to about 25% in 2017

threats to Quadra Island's wild salmon - building roads through the wetlands
The road through Quadra Island’s wetlands

Problems in the Hyacinthe Creek Watershed 

Before discussing the impacts of logging in the Hyacinthe Creek watershed, Sowerby disclosed the fact she had spent two weeks in prison during the Clayoquot Logging protest. “So I am biased,” she said. The rest of the board believe they have to work with Mosaic Forestry Management

“I just think this is the line in the sand: no more logging in Hyacinthe Creek watershed, it can’t take it. No matter what the lack of water is due to, and it probably is mostly climate change, we can stop the logging,” said Sowerby.   

They have been counting the salmon for 40 years. There are generally good Chum returns, but there have been problems with the Coho runs for about two decades. They swim right up the creeks into the wetlands. 

There has been less water in Hyacinthe Creek. This is partly because of logging, partly climate change and also because Walcan road was built through the wetland. The beaver dams which held back water for the past 10,000 years, so that there was a supply for Hyacinthe Creek during the summer, were removed because they periodically cause flooding on Walcan Road. 

The resulting lack of water, during the summer months, impacts the Coho.

“There have been puddles of Coho fry, the last few years, that we’ve had to scoop up and move down to the lower areas of Hyacinthe Creek, where the water is still running,” explained Sowerby. “Meanwhile Timber West (now Mosaic) does what Phillip Stone calls death by a thousand cuts.”

She suspects that Mosaic has kept to its agreement to log no more than 10% of the watershed a year, but”there is no way that continual logging will help the salmon in any way.” 

threats to Quadra Island's wild salmon - water shortages
Tan Creek drying up

Time for a Paradigm shift

Sowerby echoed the call for a paradigm shift.

“We need a huge shift when it comes to the way we look at our forests. A few years ago I asked Rick Munshack of Timberwest (now Mosaic) how climate change affected their logging and he said ‘We’re planting white pine because it does better in the heat.’ And I’m thinking, kind of wrong page wrong book. And then recently Domenico Iannidinardo, who is Vice President for Mosaic, was interviewed on CBC because they now have the first electric logging truck in BC.Ray Grigg said it much better than me, ‘Mosaic’s solution to the global climate crisis is to buy electric logging trucks to save a few kilograms of carbon dioxide while carting away tons of the carbon that is safely sequestered in growing and healthy trees, most of which will be exported to foreign markets,” she said.   

“I just say that kind of activity is worthy of a Gary Larsen cartoon. The fact it  is taken seriously blows my mind. The logging companies aren’t getting it, for financial reasons mostly, but we have to drastically cut back on our logging.”  

If this is not done, she predicts the Coho will disappear from Hyacinthe Creek. 

Another view of Tan Creek drying up

Climate Change 

Climate change is already upon us, says Sowerby.

“We are getting the same amount of water each year, but is coming at the wrong time and the wrong amount. It is coming late, so we are getting a huge deluge. I couldn’t even cross Hyacinthe Creek last November to count the salmon, which is very unusual, and that is unfortunately bringing down silt … And that is exasperated by any logging,” she said.

The water temperatures in oceans and creeks are expected to rise and salmon “like it cold because there is more oxygen.”

“Mosaic seem to be telling us that they can log and it will be fine, but when it is too late what do they say? – on to the next?” 

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