Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Friday, July 29, 2022

Fisheries Dept. needs to think like a fish

Sunday July 24, 2022


Earlier this week, the B.C. Wildlife Society released a disturbing report. Steelhead are headed for extinction. 

            If you’re addicted to fishing, you’ll know what a steelhead is. It is considered a world-class sport fish for its spectacular size and fighting capabilities,

            Taxonomically, steelhead are related to rainbow trout, which are themselves a desirable catch. But trout live their lives in the same freshwater stream. Steelhead migrate down to the sea, like salmon. After growing big and strong in the open ocean, they return to the stream where they were spawned. 

            In technical terms, that makes them anadromous. Even more precisely, Oncorhynchus mykiss – a trout that acts like a salmon.

            Steelhead fall into the crack between migratory fish and resident fish. Indeed, the federal Department of Fisheries (DFO) oscillates between defining them as salmon and as trout. 

            DFO has historically based its classification on the “looks like a duck” principle -- if it looks like a salmon, and acts like a salmon, it must be a salmon. 

            Except that it’s not.


Declining stocks

            This confusion exasperates Brian Braidwood. As president of the Steelhead Society of B.C. he told CBC News, "I don't care what they are, these governments that are responsible for their well-being need to get serious about protecting them."

            Because, according to official provincial estimates, only 19 steelhead will return to the Chilcotin watershed this year. Supplying enough steelhead for a single restaurant’s menu would wipe out that particular steelhead run forever.

            The Thompson River steelhead run is estimated at just 104 individual fish. 

            As recently as 1983, both steelhead runs had over 3,000 fish. 

            Since the '70s, says Braidwood, “We've gone from 6,000 fish a year to 5,000, 3,000, 2,000, 1,000, and now here we are at less than 200 in the Thompson. 

            “It's time for governments to get serious about their jobs."

            As an occasional fly-fisher, not a professional biologist, I’m not sure that governments can do much about it. Fish generally don’t pay attention to government instructions. 

            At the same time, I don’t envy the tasks of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. 


Conflicting demands

            When I lived on B.C.’s north coast, I reported on annual meetings between DFO (or whatever it was called back then) and the two powerful fishing unions: the United Fishermen and Allied Workers and the Native Brotherhood. 

            The two unions rarely saw eye to eye, except on their dislike of Fisheries. DFO regularly got blasted for working too hard at protecting the fish from the humans. 

            Today, DFO is more likely to get blasted for NOT protecting the fish. Against climate change. Industrial by-products. Toxic effluents. Diseases spread by fish farms. Marine traffic. Microplastics. Forest fires and floods…

            To say nothing of overfishing. 

            The collapse of the cod fishery on the east coast is an example. Despite ample evidence of declining fish stocks, DFO did nothing. Until it was almost too late to save the cod. 

            Cod stocks have not yet recovered, 30 years later. 

            Some marine studies claim that we humans have already scooped up 90% of the fish that used to dwell in the deeps. I have no personal expertise to offer in that area. 

            But I will dare suggest that DFO cannot help screwing up, because it thinks like a management consultant, not like a fish. 

            It tends to take the side of the fishing industry, because industry consists of humans. 


Ecology matters

            No fish has ever read, let alone understood, the reams of regulations that come out of Ottawa. I doubt if even any human has.

            Put yourself in a fish’s place. It lives in water, even without knowing what water is. It cares about the temperature of the water. About fractional traces of chemicals dissolved in that water, that enable that particular steelhead or salmon to come home to a particular patch of gravel bottom in a river. 

            For a fish, the ecosystem is everything. 

            That’s all it cares about.

            For humans, the ecosystem is secondary; economics comes first.

            If DFO wants to protect a species, DFO needs to concentrate on the whole ecosystem that fish live in. 

            It needs to have a say – maybe even a veto – in forestry projects that affect watersheds. And industrial developments. Urban expansion. 

            And, yes, a warming climate. 

            Instead, DFO concentrates on regulating human fishing. Whether those humans are flicking a fly-line out over the water, or dragging huge nets through it. DFO acts after the fact; it should be dealing with the fish’s whole life cycle.

            “Can’t we do something about this before the interior steelhead go extinct?” Brian Braidwood asks. 


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Your turn


There weren’t a lot of letters about last week’s column. Maybe the shortage of, and intermittent closure of, emergency rooms across the country feels like too  big a problem for mere mortals. 

            I did make one mistake (only one? Wow!). Somehow, my Google searches told me that there was only one medical school in B.C. Wrong. David Martyn sent along a reference to seven. And Holly Lee also sent a reminder: “UNBC here in Prince George has been training doctors for some time now . We all hope their graduates stay in the North.”



Vera Gottlieb had a comment about Clearwater. Writing about a trip to Helmcken Falls, “We had a most beautiful stop at the Falls and, on the way back, stopped in Clearwater for some refreshments: this place serving the biggest cinnamon buns we ever saw.”


The medical crisis, wrote Isabel Gibson, “won't be fixed quickly.Our system can't even keep up with ongoing demand, much less step up to handle a surge except at unacceptable cost to the staff. I read this week that 1 in 5 residents of Victoria don't have a family doctor; 1 in 7 across B.C. as a whole.

            “My proposal is to establish a medical reserve (akin to the military one) where people are paid to train in specific disciplines and to work, say, 1 weekend a month and a few weeks in the summer. Skills could include paramedic assistants, practical nurses, orderlies, and medical records and scheduling staff. Maybe pharmacy techs? Logisticians?

            “Maybe seniors who don't need the money (yes, there are some of us) could volunteer, with their pay going directly to the charity of their choice.”


Judy Lochhead: No doubt you have lots of readers from rural areas, who will respond with their own stories of medical craziness in facility closures and lack of personnel.  Where I live they have had to close acute facilities in order to redeploy staff to cover personal care homes. And in this area, emergency response by ambulance for some residents was at least an hour prior to the closure of the acute care facilities. Now it’s much longer. 

            As you said, we don't snap our fingers and create doctors, nurses, dietary, cleaning and lab staff.  This is going to take a long time to recover, and it will likely get worse before it gets better. What can we do? Our very best to stay well, and be understanding and sympathetic to those who are doing their very best to keep the facilities going.  The system is badly strained, and we perhaps should be lowering our expectations of what the super heroes in it can handle.

            “That said, I did have a hospital experience in the past month (result of a broken arm that needed surgery and my first time in hospital in 32 years)  While I did have to wait 12 hours from arrival until I had my turn in the operatory, I know my case was much less urgent than others so I waited patiently.  I had a comfortable bed, -- it was my husband that had to sit all that time on a hard chair.  I had the most amazing care provided by staff and I can say nothing negative about the whole experience.  In fact, the time has gone quickly and I am hopeful that tomorrow I can get this darn hot cast off!!”


David Gilchrist wondered if other factors were leading to medical staff shortages: “You and I grew up in a Church with male clergy -- until the ordination of Lydia Gruchy et al. I have sensed for a long time that some women are far more comfortable sharing with a female pastor than with a male (perhaps because of some previous abuse from a man??. 

            “The best period of ministry for me was when a woman joined me in a team. I came to feel that the ideal ministry in a Church was where there are both genders in an equal partnership. 

            “But then, to my dismay, fewer and fewer men are coming forward. Why? Because there is some underlying chauvinism that makes some males feel threatened by having a female team mate -- or even an elected ‘superior’ to whom they might be accountable? 

            “It is only recently that I have noticed how many doctors are now women; and I wonder if the ratio has shifted as much for doctors as for clergy. How sad. We need each other; and both congregations and patients are much better served when both are available. 

            “Or have I missed something that is obvious to others?”






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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some of these links are spam.)

            Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.

            I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/

            Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



            The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns



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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: steelhead, trout, fisheries



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