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Salmon need help to survive climate change

From Friday's Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER — Salmon in British Columbia will need human help to adapt to changes being brought on by global warming, but some streams may simply become uninhabitable to the cold-water fish, a government advisory body declared Thursday.

“Big changes are happening, creeping forward inexorably,” Paul LeBlond, chairman of the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, said as he released two new reports.

He called on the provincial and federal governments to do more to help salmon survive climate change.

“Our lakes and rivers are warming up. The freshwater flows are changing in rivers. The rain and snowfall patterns are changing. Salmon have to adapt to this. Every one of their life phases is affected,” Mr. LeBlond said.

“The adults face warmer rivers when they are swimming upstream. What's comfortable for us for swimming is lethal to the salmon. The fry and the juvenile salmon live in warmer waters and face the direct impact of climate change. They face changing conditions of warming oceans, more acidic oceans, different predators and food shortages. The whole nine yards of problems.”

He described salmon as “a valuable gift from the sea” that need protective action now, not after stocks have collapsed.

Mark Angelo, vice-chairman of the council and an environmental instructor at the B.C. Institute of Technology, said climate-change impacts are different across the wide sweep of the province, but the overall trend is for warmer winters and drier summers. He said that will result in warmer rivers in the summer, affecting migration timing, and winter floods, which will scour spawning beds.

“As a result of these changes, some dislocation of salmon stocks may be unavoidable,” he said.

The reports suggest some watersheds at the southern range of salmon habitat in British Columbia may lose the ability to support the fish. Scientific studies several years ago identified the Adams River – one of B.C.'s most important sockeye streams, with runs of millions of salmon in some years – as a watershed that could lose its stocks if temperatures increase just a few degrees.

Mr. Angelo said he hopes the reports generate public discussion on the problem and stir government to launch pro-active strategies. The reports identify two possible kinds of actions – called hard and soft solutions – to help salmon adapt.

The hard solutions involve changing dams and other structures to improve flow rates, modify temperatures and store more water in reservoirs.

The soft solutions call for policy changes to “make sure the rules are favourable to salmon survival.”

The reports say changes are needed to the provincial Water Act to specifically recognize the environmental needs of salmon and to bring under control the use of groundwater, which is currently unregulated.

Mr. Angelo said that in addition to such changes, government needs to look to warmer regions, specifically California, Australia and South Africa, to learn how best to respond when temperatures go up and fish stocks go down.

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