Vancouver restaurants remove wild salmon from menus as region combats fish decline

·4-min read

Wild salmon may sound like a fresh and healthy summer menu option, but it’s getting harder to find this year at some British Columbia eateries.

Restaurants, the Canadian government and BC wild salmon fishermen are locked in a summertime battle about restrictions implemented to save populations of the fish.

The Canadian government announced at the end of last month that it would close 79 fisheries for the season, representing 60 per cent of Canada’s commercial salmon in BC and Yukon.

The climate crisis and warmer water temperatures have threatened many salmon populations, and Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, unveiled the “guiding principles” of the country’s C$647.1 million (US$516.7) Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI) which had been allotted for in the 2021 budget.

Now some restaurants in BC have taken wild salmon off the menu altogether. Chef Ned Bell of the Naramata Inn in the Okanagan, for example, said he removed the popular item to help salmon populations recover, telling the CBC: “It is a species that needs all the love we can give it.”

Ms Jordan said last month: “Many Pacific wild salmon are on the verge of collapse, and we need to take bold, ambitious action now if we are to reverse the trend and give them a fighting chance at survival. The issues they face are challenging, but today’s announcement marks the beginning of a new chapter where we will attack the problems together and from all sides.

“We will be working closely with indigenous communities, harvesters, recreational fishers, industry, environmental organisations, and provincial and territorial partners to advance actions under each pillar, to stabilise the species, and to support a more modern, sustainable and economically resilient sector.”

According to statistics provided by her department, many “Pacific salmon stocks are declining to historic lows; 50 salmon populations are currently under consideration for potential listing under the Species at Risk Act or pending assessment by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Various factors are contributing to the decline in populations. Key challenges include warming waters as a result of the climate crisis, pollution, overfishing, and barriers to salmon migration such as dams, Sophika Kostyniuk, director of fisheries and seafood at Ocean Wise, told the CBC.

In 2019, according to a Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) press release from last month, its State of Pacific Salmon report noted that “the planet is warming, and the most recent five years have been the warmest on record. Warming oceans have created changes to the marine food web as well as warmer freshwater conditions, and more extreme rain and drought. These factors are contributing to current trends in salmon numbers”.

Dane Chauevel, a commercial fisherman who is chair of the BC Salmon Marketing Council and founder of Organic Ocean Seafood, told The Independent that “it’s not just climactic change”.

“It’s industrialisation, urbanisation, forestry, mining, all of those things have combined to make it a very difficult environmental [state] for salmon,” he added.

He, along with many in the fishing community, however, have railed against government closures and the decisions of restaurants to remove wild salmon, considering the moves to be akin to attention-grabbing band-aids.

“The unfortunate reality is that the first reaction of the government is to cut back,” he told The Independent. “They’ve been doing this for 35 or 40 years, and it’s not had an impact on the stocks - but it has had a profound impact on the socio-economic well-being of the history of the coastal communities that rely upon the fisheries.”

The United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union (UFAWU-Unifor) in Canada said in a statement that closures will “devastate salmon, harvesters and coastal communities alike,” insisting that the moves “lack grounding in science and blatantly disregard the true causes of the crisis.”

“While local salmon harvesters make for convenient scapegoats, it’s time for the government to address the real issues,” the union said. “Instead, the federal government has spent the past 20 years drastically reducing commercial fishing capacity and access, and yet salmon stocks have continued to decline. If ending the salmon crisis was as simple as reducing fisheries, the crisis we see today wouldn’t exist.”

The decisions of some restaurateurs to remove wild salmon all together, Mr Chauvel said, “confused messaging” for the average person.

“It’s something that’s caught the attention of the media and the general public,” he said. “Most of the chefs, including those that are ardent sustainable seafood advocates, they are buying the salmon and promoting the salmon, promoting the fishermen - so in kind of a perverse way, some good has come out of this.”

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