Ignoring climate change poses potential catastrophe for B.C.

Fisheries scientist says ‘extraordinary challenges’ in water management lie ahead

Environmental disaster will be our global reckoning if “we continue on our current path” regarding response to climate change, says a leading Canadian fisheries research scientist.

Kim Hyatt said fish are already being forced to adapt to the current impact of climate change and how it affects water flows and temperatures, and if left unchecked that adaptation will continue at an evolutionary rate unprecedented in history with potentially dire consequences.

“Scientists are already saying we are looking at a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius at a minimum, and the likelihood is that if we continue with the business as usual schedule we are at now globally, it will be something in the two to four degree increase,” Hyatt said.

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“That may not sound like a whole lot, but of you warm up the ocean by two to four degrees, it will take centuries for that flywheel to spin down as the impacts play out. For fish, it will influence their productivity and distort their abundance.”

Hyatt’s expressed his thoughts on global warming as one of the speakers at the two-day 2018 Environmental Flow Needs Conference on water management science, policy and structure held this week at the Coast Capri Hotel in Kelowna.

Experts from agriculture and environmental management community along with First Nation representatives attended the conference, which featured speakers from across Canada and the U.S.

Hyatt said sustaining river, lake and creek flows are not the only issue presented by climate change.

“It’s not just good enough to have those water flows. Quality of flow also matters as much as quantity. The (temperature) regimes in streams and rivers in B.C. will dictate along with the amount of water what fish will be able to live in,” he said.

He cited the example of 2015, when the salmon run mortality en route to the Columbian River system was 97 per cent, attributed to a 1.5 degree water temperature increase recorded the latter week of June and first 10 days of July.

“By 2070 that could the new norm so the challenges we face in how to intervene and sustain that salmon run will be extraordinary…we need to think outside the box and bring other people of expertise into this discussion who are clearly not present right now in this room.”

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Hyatt noted the collaborative efforts involving the Okanagan Nation Alliance and environmental agencies and groups to revive the sockeye salmon run in the Okanagan River, much of which is generated from the Columbia River basin.

‘The end point we often forget is one of human systems, the infrastructure we have built to manage and exploit water resources and extract benefits from them has to change. From ocean fishing fleet to water use regulations, we have to look at ways to identify solutions to these problems and those solutions will be challenging.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, past chief of the Penticton Indian Band and past chair of the Okanagan Nation Alliance, also spoke at the conference about facing the difficult decisions climate change will force us to confront.

Phillip said already Okanagan Valley residents are starting to look at spring in the Okanagan in terms of how bad the flooding will be, or at summer for how bad the forest fire situation will be.

While he voiced how impressed he was with the knowledge and expertise gathered for the conference, he said the time to accumulate data research can lead to the paralysis by analysis approach, which sometimes puts off confronting difficult issues facing future management of our environment resources.

RELATED: Okanagan River sockeye run down in 2017

“There are some controversial decisions that we face and as has been the case with our people for centuries, we need to collaborate and discuss those issues and reach consensus on how to go forward. What I have found is that when you are taking flak on all sides on a given issue, it usually means you are right over the target of what needs to be addressed,” Phillip said.

Dawn Machin, a biologist with ONA, said collaboration remains a key to combatting the influence of climate change on our fisheries.

“I would not say collaboration is solely responsible, but it has contributed to the sockeye revival in the Okanagan River that saw less than 2,000 fish spawning in the mid-1990s to where we see above 200,000 today. How we got there took commitment and a willingness with Department of Fisheries, the province and the utility district in the U.S. to work with us.

“Our commitment is we live here as we have for generations and we are tied to the water and its resources. We can’t be Okanagan people if we have to leave…that is why we push and fight to preserve our fish and our water.

“We can all work together and we get further when we do all work together. It takes a willingness for everyone to play a part, to listen and keep an open mind and open heart. We have to stay connected to our land…to be responsible and honour and protect these resources.”



barry.gerding@blackpress.ca

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