TRANSCRIPT - Jim Fulton
Fulton is the Executive Director of the David Suzuki Foundation,
an environmental non-profit organization registered in Canada
and the United States. He is also a former member of the Canadian
Parliament, representing the Pacific coastal region of British
What is the state of the wild capture fishery in BC?
Well the wild
capture fishery in BC is in decline. If we go back a century or
more, we used to get, for example, more than 100 million salmon
into the Fraser River, which is right here. Now a good year we get
about 20 million. If we get three million onto the grounds, sockeye
for example, thats considered good. But as anyone can figure,
if youre down from 100 million to a couple of million, its
in decline. If you look, though, at the larger salmon issue, in
terms of the North Pacific, last year, 1999, 800,000 tons were captured
in the fisheries between Japan, Russia, Alaska, British Columbia,
Washington a little bit in terms of other fisheries. To give
you some sense of how big that is, thats the same as the adult
populations weight in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington,
Oregon and Idaho combined. So its about the same as 12 million
adults, so its still a very large population biomass. But
whats happening is a lot of those fish are hatchery fish.
A lot of those
fish are in weakened or threatened status. I mean some runs are
down to two or three or four spawners, so weve got a tattered
remains of one of the most vibrant and significant anadromous (which
is a scientific name for fish that spawn and grow up in fresh water,
live out their life cycle in salt water and come back and spawn
in fresh) fish. Theyre a wonderful complete cycle. They bring
all of that nitrogen from the middle of the Pacific back into rivers
in Japan, in Russia, in Alaska and British Columbia, in Washington,
Oregon and California. And in some watersheds, more than 50% of
the nitrogen in the trees and in the plants comes from the middle
of the Pacific. These wonderful creatures gather all of this nitrogen
and protein out in the Pacific and like huge roots from the continents,
draw all of that nitrogen back in to feed the insects, to feed the
birds, to feed the salmon, to feed the bears, and to feed the people.
The commercial salmon fishery has existed for over a century now.
What kind of changes do you believe need to happen to make wild
capture fisheries in general more sustainable?
non-agriculturally based cultures in the history of the world were
on the west coast of North America, and it was based on salmon.
So this wonderful creature provides sustenance broadly throughout
the life cycles of the world and provides for a wonderful cultural
base thats still very powerful to this day all around the
North Pacific, right from the west to the east.
If we go back
in time a little bit for many centuries, the Aboriginal people here
in British Colombia and in Alaska and also in Washington and Oregon
and all the way down to Sacramento, had terminal in-river fisheries.
They waited until the salmon came in, then theyd harvest them,
either with some kind of a beach seine, rock weirs, or traps. All
kinds of different technologies have evolved over time. Spearing,
dip netting, all kinds of things, and they tended to harvest selectively.
There were certain stocks that they were interested in and they
would harvest those for smoking or drying or eating or whatever.
in the last century that weve seen the evolution of technology
very rapidly and the very accurate sonar equipment to identify where
the fish are when theyre in the ocean, to net them with huge
seine nets that take mixed stocks. They would take different kinds
of salmon. They would take king salmon, along with sockeye, and
coho. They would take weak runs with strong runs and those kinds
of mixed stock, interception fisheries. Where the huge nets and
hook and line fisheries, were taking fish while they were on their
way from the ocean into the fresh water, has lead to the weakening
of many runs. In fact has taken many runs to extinction.
What we have
to do now is move away from an accelerating technological capacity,
which is capable of taking basically all of the fish, back to a
much more selective fishery which is related to individual runs
as theyre going into individual rivers and into individual
streams and side streams. And its only by moving to wheels,
where the technology, the actual movement of the water, moves the
wheel, picks the fish up out of the water and sorts them with simple
gravity by the weight of the fish and the species of the fish, you
can either tip them back into the river or tip them into a drum
and this means, from a climate change perspective, you dont
have a whole lot of fuel being burned chasing fish out on the ocean.
Youre not losing fishermen who are drowning in bad weather.
Youre getting a very high quality product right as it arrives
at natures door. You know how many have gone on to spawn so
you can let the right number go to spawn to feed the fish that live
in the system, to feed the birds, to feed bears, to keep the system
in good health.
So in order
to get the system back in order, we have to move back to the traditional,
historic culturally intact kinds of fisheries that occurred for
thousands of years on salmon all over the world and thats
selective terminal fisheries. You can do it with wheels. You can
do it with beach seines. You can do it with dip nets. You can do
it with spearing. You can do it with rock weirs. There are many
ways that it can be done. Its more economically viable. Its
more profitable. It produces more jobs. It produces the same quality
or better product. It allows you to have sustainable numbers of
stocks going back to spawn. You allow the natural balance and evolutionary
cycle to carry on without intercepting too much of one run or too
much of too many runs and bringing about the kinds of collapses
that are now occurring throughout all of the salmons range
throughout all of the world.
Ive heard you say that a lot of the high technology on boats
isnt really necessary for going after something like salmon
because salmon come to you.
important that we move back to the historic terminal fisheries because
salmon, unlike many other fish in the world, hatch in the fresh
water. They spend most of their life out in the ocean, but they
come back to the same fresh water. This is not rocket science. The
fish are going to come back. You dont have to go chase them
on the ocean. You can wait til they come back into the fresh
water rivers, let the number go and spawn that you believe need
to go and spawn, and then you can take that excess fish and use
it for sport, commercial, processing, whatever.
To what degree do you think the precautionary principle is being
applied to fishery management decisions in British Columbia?
principle is understood and its mouthed by the federal government.
But its not actually practiced. Whether youre running
a shoe store or a fishery, one of your fundamentals is youve
got to have inventory. Most of the 9,000 runs in British Columbia,
are not inventoried annually. Even the number of spawners on the
grounds arent counted each year, let alone the number of fry
going back out. In order to practice the precautionary principle,
you have to have an inventory. You need to know how many youve
got. Are they increasing or decreasing? And many of our runs in
BC have either already gone extinct, several hundred have gone extinct.
We know that several thousand are probably at very high risk and
there are only a few hundred that are really in good shape. The
precautionary principle is not being practiced in BC. The fundamentals
simply arent being put in place.
They just closed
snow crab on the East Coast. Its collapsed after only five
years. That was the replacement fishery for the cod collapse. Now
theyve fished it out.
How important are salmon to the coastal ecosystems here?
In British Columbia,
in many of the river valleys, up to half of the nitrogen thats
found in everything from the huckleberries to the giant cedar trees,
comes from the mid-Pacific. Weve been doing radioisotope work.
Weve been drilling trees. Weve been gathering information
about the source of the nitrogen and we now know that up to half,
in some cases more than half, of the nitrogen in the entire system
has been brought there by the salmon from deep Pacific. We also
now know that up to a third of the actual body weight of young salmon
when theyre heading back to the ocean, has come from the nitrogen
brought by their parents from the middle of the Pacific back up
into the river and as they have passed on, theyve left that
nitrogen in the system. Its gone into insects and into other
forms of life. Up to half of the nitrogen in the plants and up to
a third of the actual body weight of young salmon on their way back
to the ocean, has come from nitrogen brought by the adult salmon
back in from the Pacific.
Down in the Northwest in the United States, hatcheries have been
identified as a big part of the problem which has led to a decline
in wild salmon populations. Is that a big problem here in British
of big hatcheries has been a problem throughout the range of salmon.
In Alaska now about 1.2 billion young salmon are released from hatcheries
per year into the Pacific. Here in British Colombia, 485 million
per year. In Washington, Oregon and Northern California, another
465 million a year. So youve got more than two billion young
hatchery-raised, genetically reduced in terms of fitness, salmon
going out into the ocean. Hatcheries have created a problem for
wild stocks because its allowed more intensive fisheries to
take place on the wild stocks. So as youre catching large
volumes of hatchery returns, youre also catching increasingly
large numbers of wild salmon, who may be in reduced numbers. The
hatchery populations have masked, for some years, the problem of
declining wild biodiversity.
a problem for biodiversity and hatchery fish are now also not returning
in as high levels as do wild salmon. Were in a process now
of moving out of the hatchery age, as we move into this new millennia,
and were going to move back to more enhancement, perhaps,
in river of wild salmon stocks. But its the wild salmon that
are the basic part of the salmon structure that we now have to work
the hardest to protect, to restore, and to enhance.
Why is it important that fishery managers in BC respect and work
with the first nations?
The first nations
on the whole of the coast of North America have fished salmon at
least since the last Ice Age, so theyve got 10,000 years of
experience and they know many of these runs very well. Generally,
one or two families will have specific fishing rights on particular
streams. On particular runs and they know a lot. Its passed
on from generation to generation to generation about when you should
take them, how many you should take and theres a whole lot
of traditions. Science is only now starting to realize the true
wisdom of these traditions. Its not jiggery, pokery or hocum
locum or whatever. An awful lot of what Aboriginal people know about
salmon is wise, traditional science. Its based on thousands
of years of observation, which is the basis of modern science: observation.
And governments have to pay a lot more tribute to the kinds of information
that traditional Aboriginal people bring to the table about salmon.
To what degree is the decline of salmon fisheries here a habitat
documented evidence from some river systems here in BC that the
loss, the extinction of specific salmon runs can be laid 100% at
the door of logging companies. Logging practices have brought about
the demise and extinction of salmon in some systems in British Columbia.
not just logging companies, its road construction. Its
the place where the toxic and hazardous waste and sewage into rivers.
Its over grazing. Its taking too much water out.
a whole slew of ecological issues that are badly managed on the
terrestrial land side in British Columbia, but clear cut logging
is a real and significant problem. It causes increased sedimentation.
It causes water pulses at the wrong time of year without the root
systems to hold the water. So you get all kinds of problems, not
the least of which is that without the trees along the edges of
the rivers, they either get too warm or too cool at the wrong times
of year. The insects that live in the trees and fall into the rivers,
they cant do that if the trees arent there, and again,
this isnt rocket science.
had particularly bad land management in British Columbia to protect
those very fragile, narrow zones near rivers and streams and we're
just starting now to wake up to the fact that at least for 100 or
200 meters around all bodies of water along the Pacific, these lands
should be left alone for salmon, for birds, for insects, for all
of those oasis-oriented forms of life that live in, around, near
or upon water.
In the Northwest States of the United States its now often
heard that saving salmon will require a whole re-shuffle of the
regions economic base. To what degree is that true here?
a huge re-shuffle thats required, but when one looks at the
co-benefits that come from keeping your water clean, protecting
the rivers and plants along riversides, reducing the amount of sediment
and toxic wastes going into salmon spawning grounds and so on, as
youre doing it supposedly just for salmon, were also
doing it for ourselves. Were doing it for our children so
they can swim in the rivers again. Were doing it for bird
populations so that people who like to watch birds can see them
moving around in the environment. So theres a huge number
of co-benefits that come from restoring salmon habitat.
So while there
are those power companies and so on who dont want to see their
dams taken down, I think its worth remembering that as we
move to more renewable energy, more conservation and higher levels
of efficiency, these are the engines that will make the Pacific
Northwest economy grow in a positive and balanced and sustainable
way. It will also give people a better lifestyle. A cleaner, healthier
environment brings all kinds of new investment and a kind of balance
and sustainability that the world needs and I think if we do it,
if we clean up and restore salmon habitat and salmon runs here in
the Pacific Northwest, it will be a beacon to the world that we
can have balance and sustainable humanity with the natural world
throughout the world.
with farm salmon is that theyre raised at such high levels
of concentration, 10 kg per cubic meter. Thats like having
two ten-pound salmon in the bathtub with you while youre in
there. Theres not much room to swim around so thats
why they get infections. Thats why they get disease. Thats
why theyre bred to be docile, slow moving, not particularly
fit or intelligent. Farm salmon are raised to be a bit dolt-like
and thats just one other aspect of why you will continue to
find higher levels of contamination of both metals and toxic contaminants
and drugs in farm salmon is because of what theyre fed. Wild
salmon are a bit more picky. They go out and they have a nice, varied
Could you speak about the numbers of salmon here that have escaped?
Here in British
Columbia over the last few years, weve had more than a million
escapes. These are the reported escapes. A government study that
was done two years ago suggests that its at least double that
number so were up around a couple of million that have escaped.
Whats different as you have adults escaping compared to introducing
fry in the systems, is that the adults when they escape, go and
find a niche that they believe is suitable to go and breed in. The
difference with Atlantic salmon, unlike our Pacific salmon, is that
Atlantic salmon dont die after they spawn. They go back into
the ocean and come back again. So if theyve escaped and they
find a river and they go in and they successfully spawn, not only
may their offspring go out and come back and spawn, they will come
back again so you start getting these problem areas as they have
in Norway, Scotland and other countries where theyve had a
longer history of salmon farming. Theyve now basically lost
their wild salmon populations entirely due to escapes, disease introduced
by escapes and one of the problems that Atlantics bring even to
Pacific. Even though they can cross breed but are unlikely to, is
that the Atlantic salmon will go in and disrupt natural spawning,
natural breeding and take up natural habitat and food.
There have been some outbreaks of diseases that have affected wild
salmon populations. Could you talk about that?
The hard science
is still not in on whether or not disease that is breaking out at
salmon farms in BC is spreading into the wild populations. What
we do know is that diseases can go in from wild salmon to farm salmon
and we also know that disease can come out from farm salmon into
wild salmon. Regrettably a lot of the salmon farms here on the Pacific
Coast are along the migratory roots for huge volumes of salmon coming
back to their birthplaces. We simply dont know yet how much
disease coming from salmon farms has gone into the wild populations.
All we do know is that huge numbers of salmon in recent years have
been either completely disappearing, sometimes a million at a time
and huge numbers of salmon are dying once they come back into the
rivers from diseases that are also found in salmon farms. The forensic
evidence isnt in yet making the direct link and the reason
is that neither industry nor government are studying it. There are
no studies being done to confirm or to deny the rate of transmission
of disease from farm salmon to wild.
You talked about the declining salmon stocks being masked by hatcheries.
Is the same true for farm-raised salmon here in BC?
There is a real
market issue here. A lot of people, when they go to the menu choose
farm salmon over wild, thinking if I eat farm for a while, that
will allow the wild population to bounce back. Regrettably, whats
happened in terms of the market is because farm salmon is available
all year long, they are able to significantly influence price by
when they bring their product on-line. They know that when wild
salmon come on the market in July, August, September, and into October,
thats when they have the least amount of their product going
into the market, but by keeping a significant choke hold on the
market, theyve pulled down the amount paid to salmon fishermen
for wild salmon and its cast the whole of the wild salmon
fishery on the west coast of North America into chaos with plunging
prices. So theyve done this deliberately.
Some of the
big players which are giant, international, multinational chemical
companies are both vertically and horizontally integrated in farm
salmon. Theyre into massive opportunities to manipulate price
and to drive down the price paid for farm salmon, which drives down
the likelihood of governments doing the right thing to protect salmon
habitat that leads to lower numbers of salmon in their resident
populations and it becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
dont like wild salmon. They dont like wild salmon. They
would like to see all wild salmon extinct so they have a monopoly
on the market. And its only tough minded consumers who will
deliberately go to the menu and demand wild salmon, that are actually
helping wild salmon to survive. Clearly some stocks will need to
be certified so that we know that they are being sustainably harvested,
but I think the big issue right now that the public have to grab
onto is to save wild salmon. Its a good thing to eat wild
salmon and its a bad thing to eat farm salmon.
Salmon farmers say that they produce jobs. How would you respond
not much employment in the salmon farming industry. If you look
at it throughout its whole life cycle, theres very little
in the way of jobs in capturing the feed that goes into the industry.
Its all big, deep-sea trawlers. If you look at the industry
here, most of them are so highly automated, you just have one person
who clicks on the automatic feeders. You have a vet who comes and
throws in some drugs. You have the fish that are then suctioned
out of the net cages and theyre then taken to a plant where
theyre quickly eviscerated and filleted and shipped off to
market. Here in BC fewer than 1,000 jobs are related to this entire
industry, which produces almost 40,000 tons of farm salmon for the
Los Angeles, Denver, and New York markets. Almost all of the fish
raised here is sold in the United States white tablecloth market
in three cities.
In terms of marine aquaculture, how can it be done right?
When you look
at farm salmon, whether its in British Columbia, Washington,
Chile, Norway wherever its going on, a first and most
important first step is to go to safe fail technology. This means
closed containment systems, so that youre sure you can use
the cooling capacity of the ocean, which is a very expensive cost
for raising fish. You can pump in water from the ocean but then
it has to be completely filtered prior to going back into the ocean
and it must be hard sided.
The reason so
many seals, for example, are killed is they naturally are curious.
They see their favorite food swimming around in the ocean. Where
are they supposed to eat? Are they supposed to get out and go to
the local McDonalds for lunch? No. They see salmon swimming in the
ocean, theyll try and get in and get them. Thats true
of sea lions and to a certain extent, of whales and many, many birds.
So hard sided,
closed containment systems is clearly the way to go and not just
for salmon. We are seeing an expansion into halibut and into black
cod and into many other species around the world where private capital
want to capture the opportunity of feeding a domesticated stock.
This is something weve done on the land and to an increasing
extent will be done in the ocean and in lakes and in rivers. I think
its a very clear signal that the public have to send to the
regulators. If youre going to let these industries operate
in the ocean, they must be fail safe. No escapes. No sewage. No
disease. Dont let those fish loose to kill off our wild stocks.
Closed systems are the way to go.
How do you think restaurant go-ers can make a positive influence
when choosing salmon from a menu, particularly with an emerging
certification process for sustainable seafood?
I think consumers
need to start asking some of these tough questions when they go
into a restaurant. If they see wild and farmed, say they prefer
wild but then when they ask for the wild, they should increasingly
ask the restaurant or the chef "Is this a certified wild salmon?"
"Does this come from a system where Im not eating the
There is work
being done now to start certifying some of the salmon in the world.
Its going to start probably in Alaska. I think its important
though that it be a more refined certification process than is being
worked on right now. I think it has to be run-specific. We have
to know that the run itself is healthy.
Here in British
Columbia we have 9,000 runs, and as I said earlier, only a couple
hundred of those 9,000 runs are big, robust, healthy runs that can
be extensively harvested. So its important that we know, as
labeling starts to occur, that were getting into selective
fisheries, that theyre terminal fisheries, that these are
fish that are captured that are being captured in a balanced and
sustainable way from runs that will continue on into the future.
Thats what labeling is for. Labeling is an important aspect
of this. Its in its earliest days, but it will only
happen in its majestic salmon saving form if consumers ask
for it, demand it, and get it.