For a day and a half beginning on Sept. 30, 140 people participated in the first Shuswap Salmon Symposium dedicated to exploring how best to improve salmon conservation efforts in the wake of persistently grim news regarding declining returns. A joint effort of the Adams River Salmon Society and the Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band, the event held at the Quaaout Lodge and Conference Centre included presentations by experts, videos, storytelling and small group discussions.
Symposium participants gathered first at the Adams River to witness the park re-naming ceremony and the grand opening of the Salute to the Sockeye Festival. The ceremony was a sacred event that began with a Secwepemc welcoming song performed by Adams Lake elder, Ethel Billy. Grand Chief Felix Arnouse explained how the new name chosen, Tsútswecw, meaning many tributaries, was how his grandmother called the area where the park is located.
Roderick Haig-Brown’s granddaughter, Josie Vayro, then spoke briefly about how her family is delighted with the new name, as they believe that Roderick would have preferred it, given that he was very supportive of First Nation traditional values. In addition to drumming and singing, the festivities included a performance by storyteller Kenthen Thomas.
After a welcoming message and prayer by Chief Oliver Arnouse, participants enjoyed a salmon feast and then were treated to a 25-minute video about Nettie Wild’s extraordinary film, Uninterrupted, that was displayed for three months this summer on the pillars and supports of the Cambie Street Bridge in Vancouver. Creative and colourful, the multi-million dollar installation was viewed by 36,000 people.
Two powerful and eloquent speakers gave presentations on Sunday night. Indigenous food sovereignty activist, Dawn Morrison, spoke about the need to resist the corporate control of the global food system and create a paradigm shift that will result in the de-colonization of knowledge systems. She said there is now more than ever a need to restore a healthy connection to the land and food.
Renowned forest ecologist Herb Hammond’s talk concentrated on the importance of water and how it connects and sustains all life on the planet. Due in part to the impacts of climate change, he said there is a need to transform forest management so that it better protects the quality, quantity and timing of flow. Given that each degree of global warming results in seven per cent more water in the atmosphere leading to greater severity and frequency of storms, restoration is crucial, especially in cities where impermeable layers of concrete and asphalt cannot handle heavy rainfalls.
Chief Oliver Arnouse opened the symposium on Monday with some formidable messages about the fate of the planet and the salmon. He described how traditional knowledge reveals that everything is interconnected and if “we do not smarten up” the salmon will be gone.
Brian Riddell, president and CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation, delivered what could be considered the keynote speech, which detailed the ongoing concerns with the rapidly declining salmon stocks. Beginning in the 1980s, the rate of decline in southern B.C. stocks is approximately 43 per cent, he said, and yet during this same time period, salmon numbers have been increasing significantly in Korea, Russia and Alaska.
The major factor behind the rapidly decreasing numbers is climate change. For two years beginning in 2014, a warm blob of seawater, four degrees centigrade above average, resulted in serious impacts including lower returns and diminished size and vitality. Despite the bleak reality, Riddell remains a glass-half-full optimist and believes the resilient nature of salmon will help them pull through the impacts, along with management embracing traditional knowledge to help build a salmon society to protect and restore Pacific salmon for future generations.
More specific solutions were presented during the panel discussion on salmon conservation and management.
SFU professor John Reynolds decried the use of mixed stock ocean fisheries that has resulted in endangered species status for several stocks. He urged the establishment of community based fisheries and moving fish farms that spread sea lice to juvenile salmon to dry land.
A hot topic was the long delay in implementing the Wild Salmon Policy developed in 2005 and the recommendations of the Cohen Report.
Sarah Murdoch, a director with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, described the many challenges of managing stocks due to the variability and diversity of the 463 Pacific salmon conservation units.
Adams Lake Indian Band Title and Rights Manager Dave Nordquist noted the need to consider the cumulative impacts, including many decades of maximizing harvests. He also explained how First Nations can play a crucial role as the hub within the myriad of groups involved in conservation.
During the breakout session, participants gathered in eight groups to brainstorm ideas to advance salmon conservation.
Some of the suggestions that emerged included developing a centre of excellence that would involve local universities, government agencies and First Nations; a shift to local management utilizing terminal fisheries rather than ocean gill nets that catch endangered stocks; and raising awareness, especially among young people.
The event concluded with words from Chief Oliver Arnouse about the need to engage the next generation to take action by utilizing traditional knowledge and experience.
Salmon Society president Don Paterson stressed how all perspectives are valid and that “people need to get out of their silos and connect.”
The success of the gathering organized by Julie John and Carmen Massey was made apparent by the consensus within the room of the need to make the symposium a yearly event.