Dr. Brian Riddell is the President and CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation, an independent, non-governmental organization dedicated to creating a sustainable future for wild Pacific salmon and their habitat. Founded in 1987, the foundation operates with an annual budget of $9 million and makes grants to community-based salmon conservation projects in British Columbia and the Yukon.
Riddell is an internationally recognized fisheries scientist who has extensive experience in fisheries management and environmental policy development.
Prior to joining the Pacific Salmon Foundation in February 2009, Riddell worked for 30 years in various scientific research and management positions with the Government of Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Riddell was the scientific lead in the creation of Canada’s Policy for Conservation of Wild Pacific Salmon, for which he received the Government of Canada’s Public Service Distinction Award in 2005. He also contributed to the development of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, the 1985 bi-lateral agreement between Canada and the United States governing management, research and enhancement of Pacific salmon.
Notes on Dr. Brian Riddell’s Presentation
Dick Bradshaw introduced our guest speaker, Brian Riddell, who has been the CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation for the last six years, and has, himself, been involved with salmon, one way or another, for 41 years. His specialty is Genetics, and on arriving in BC he started the genetics department of the Pacific Biological Station. What most impressed him in BC was the amazing adaptability of all west coast salmon, and that includes steelhead and cutthroat trout, both of which are really salmon. Incidentally the annual value of the Wild Pacific Salmon industry to BC is roughly 1.5 billion dollars. It is a valuable resource which we seem to take for granted, at our peril. We must preserve the habitat for all salmon – the spawning areas, the streams and rivers, and the coastal areas. This is our wake up call – we could lose it if we neglect it. The Pacific Salmon Foundation (a registered charity set up in 1979) has set this as their main task – making us aware of the importance of salmon, and the risk of losing it. Their motto is “Bring them back, stream by stream.” There are now 345 organizations doing just that – cleaning up and restoring streams throughout the province. The foundation has given over $4 million to these various groups to help with the restoration. For each dollar provided, the local groups have provided an average of six dollars of their own! The foundation is strictly non-partisan and consists of only 12 people. Administration costs are kept below 10%.
One could encapsulate Brian Riddell’s lecture as a profound wake-up call for all of us – in fact, two wake up calls. The first call is about our Pacific Salmon, and second call, Climate Change.
He touched briefly on “Wild Atlantic Salmon” which was his first study – these were abundant from the Arctic, down the east coast of Canada and USA, and across to Europe, and are now only found in the waters of Scandinavia and Russia. Who is at fault for the decline – people!
The term Salish Sea was mentioned several times but may be new to some of us. It refers to Juan de Fuca Strait, Puget Sound, and Georgia Strait north from Victoria to about Quadra Island. The Salish Sea Marine Survival Project is the main subject being addressed by the foundation. One of the many points he raised is the importance of Pink Salmon which is still very abundant and which we should enjoy as an excellent food source. (He suggested there may be as many as 300 million pink salmon in the Pacific each year, a huge resource which is under-utilized.)
Aside from the several species of Pacific Salmon there are also very many groups or populations – Fraser River Sockeye would be an example of one distinct group. Studying these groups is extremely complex but technology is helping. Some of the device systems used today are very high tech – they can now tag large numbers of fish with a variety of signalling devices. This makes it possible to improve our knowledge of where the fish go and where their food source is located. They are now even tagging some seals to learn more about their habits and what prey they are taking. For example they can do DNA tests on seal scat and figure out from which groups they are catching their prey. If food is in short supply in Georgia Strait, the Coho in particular will go outside the Strait to the West Coast of Vancouver Island, and they can now “follow” them with this technology. Chinook and Coho were the major sport fishing target in times past and the foundation hopes to restore this within Georgia Strait. Of the Coho spawned, 85% are actually caught and only 15% get back to spawn. In 1998 the Coho fishery was shut down to allow a revival. Some blamed the seals, and indeed their population has increased from 7,000 to about 45,000 in the Strait. But clearly there are other factors at work including over-fishing.
The foundation gets support from up to 47 other organizations and it also works closely with groups and governments on the US West Coast. Part of the research depends on about 10 small ships in Georgia Strait, each ship equipped to sample the ocean and relay the results directly to the University of Victoria for analysis. There is excellent cooperation between the various parties with an interest in salmon.
In summary, Riddell is worried about the increase in human population around Georgia Strait, the plastic pollution in the ocean, various developments along the coast, climate change and fresh water shortages (the snow pack in this region is 15% below average and going down each year). And of course, WE are the problem and we are so reluctant to change our way of living. Climate change, in other words warming of the earth including the oceans, will have profound effects on salmon as well as many other living organisms. Among other worries is the possibility of the Petronas LNG industrial complex being located on Lelu Island near Prince Rupert – in his opinion a most terrible choice of location for such an industry. All these are complex problems. We should use Independent Expert Panels to make decisions on these much more than we do.
Questioned about the food source for salmon, he says this depends on plankton from kelp and eelgrass and they are doing studies on it right now. Questioned about fish farms, he commented that if the farms are properly “treated” about two months before the each new crop, it is possible to control the lice. It worked in the past, but it is just not being done adequately at the present time. Questioned on the 1994 crash in salmon population in the Fraser, he said we really do not have an answer, even though it has been well studied. The final question concerned DFO’s involvement in fish farms. Well, DFO is now the regulator of fish farms, and plainly it is not working well. Among other things, DFO is also tasked with promoting fish farming (conflict of interest?), yet regulations are not well established. In short, not much is being done to regulate them right now and the problem of lice persists. Space does not permit a proper coverage of this complex subject and for those interested in these matters (and who could not be?), one should visit the foundation’s excellent web site.