Art and science merged beautifully at the Salt Spring Arts Council’s Against the Current: Salmon and Orca exhibit at Mahon Hall this month.
Artwork on marine ecology themes and especially orcas and salmon, undertaken by professional artists as well as school children, combined to highlight the importance of the Salish Sea’s marine wildlife. The exhibit also brought the possibility of the extinction of the southern resident killer whales into sharp focus. One exhibit showed the lineage and names of all animals in the J, K and L pods. As biologist Alexandra Morton has pointed out, loss of the whales would make it the first species extinction on the planet where each individual’s name was known.
A Feb. 18 presentation called Let the Herring Live raised another important issue. If killer whales are starving due to a lack of chinook salmon, is not a lack of herring for the salmon to eat another factor to consider?
Speakers made a compelling case that overfishing of herring is something that needs to stop in order to increase the chance of survival for the salmon and the whales. Other groups and local government agencies have recently called for a cessation of the fishery or at least a reduction in the amount harvested this year.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans consistently states that harvesting of 20 per cent of the herring biomass is a sustainable practice, and it estimates the biomass amount each year. But DFO predicts the 2020 biomass will be only 54,200 metric tonnes, down from 86,000 tonnes in 2019, when it had predicted that number to be 138,000 tonnes. In 2016 the biomass was determined to be 130,000 tonnes, so it is clearly declining, despite contrary claims from the fishing industry last year.
The Strait of Georgia commercial herring fishery is the last of five that once existed on the B.C. coast. Comparisons to the death of the Atlantic cod fishery have been made. Can the destruction of a resource that’s economic value is derived from exporting the roe to Japan, and making pet treats and food for farmed Atlantic salmon really be justified? Local salmon fishing and tourism industries are negatively affected by loss of the herring as well.
More information and a petition to the House of Commons led by MP Gord Johns is available at pacificwild.org. If we’re serious about saving orcas and salmon, it’s an important place to start.