Lake Babine rapid decline

It’s been a terrible start to this year’s Babine Lake sockeye fishery.

It’s been a terrible start to this year’s Babine Lake sockeye fishery, and there doesn’t seem to be any one cause that can be isolated to explain the massive decline in this year’s salmon return so far.

The Alaskan fishery, which takes up a lot of sockeye thanks to non-selective fishing methods, has been identified as a contributing factor, but even the conservationists who identified the issue with the Alaskan fishery say that one problem alone can’t account for the massive decline.

Lake Babine Nation (LBN) Chief Wilf Adam probably hit the nail on the head when he identified a range of issues that the salmon harvest faces. One suspects that it is a cumulative effect here, and not one particular hazard that explains the decline.

It’s not that Adam isn’t familiar with the ebb and flow of salmon returns; he never said every year should be a banner year. What he did say is that no one alive remembers a salmon return this low. If that isn’t enough for everyone to sit up and take notice, nothing is.

Cumulative effect is a hot topic when it comes to assessing industrial projects. Although provincial and federal regulators are directed to take into account the multiplier effect of several industrial projects in an area, the assessment of cumulative impact remains one of the most criticized aspects of present-day environmental assessments.

As an example of cumulative effects, consider waste-water runoff. Tailings pond leaching from one project might not have a significant effect on a lake or watershed, but add two or three to the mix, and the cumulative effect could be overwhelming.

Sorting out what happened this year with the salmon return should be a priority for the department of fisheries and oceans and the province, but that’s doubtful.

The priority is moving forward with pipelines.

Other priorities over the past year, looking at the federal record, have been to remove legislative protection of Northern B.C. rivers, streams and lakes.

As I understand the regulations that remain, Lake Babine should fall under even the newer and much curtailed list of protected water bodies because it is the site of a commercial fishery.

Or should we now say a potential commercial fishery, as it’s expected to provide barely enough sustenance to get through this winter for LBN citizens?

It’s hard not to be cynical and look at weakened watershed protection regulations as if they were put in place to slowly define away the river systems that automatically trigger more serious environmental reviews.

If the salmon fishery on Babine Lake is destroyed, then that’s one less lake that needs to be worried about from a regulatory point of view. It’s only automatically protected if it supports a commercial fishery, so let the fishery die off and that’s one less protected lake.

Of course, it’s absurdly cynical to look at it this way, right? A government would never turn a blind eye to the destruction of an indigenous way of life so that it wouldn’t have to deal with it in the future, would it?