Fish by the Barrel

Wild sockeye salmon is the most financially lucrative renewable marine resource on the West Coast. Thanks in large part to sockeye trade, generations of coastal peoples have built strong economies and vibrant cultures.

These traditions continue today, but BC Liberals and Harper Conservatives seem determined to gut our west coast fishery just like we gutted the east coast cod fishery. Our provincial and federal governments keep putting fossil fuels ahead of better economic opportunities and more sustainable practices.

Let’s think this through.

Back in the 19th century, when James Douglas worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company, he was buying and selling salmon by the barrel.

Today, a barrel of wild sockeye is worth far more than a barrel of oil. You can buy a barrel of oil for about $65, while a barrel of sockeye is worth about $4,300.

That’s right, at roughly $13 per pound, an oil barrel full of sockeye (330 lbs) is worth about $4,300.

Some will remind us about volume. We can sell more barrels of oil than barrels of salmon so selling barrels of oil is more profitable.

They’re only partly right. If we manage our fish properly, we’ll have bountiful sockeye returns for generations to come. We’ll be selling barrels of fish long after the barrels of oil have run dry. Not only are sockeye more valuable per unit, but in the long run there is a greater volume.

So why are we trading such a valuable renewable resource for a less valuable, non-renewable one? It just doesn’t add up.

We need to be better stewards of this valuable commodity. It didn’t take long for Douglas and the HBC to realize the nutritional and economic value of the salmon trade, but over the years we’ve forgotten the importance of “fishing for tomorrow.”

Long before Douglas and the HBC, west coast indigenous peoples had been running extremely profitable commercial salmon fisheries. The fishing technologies they used were selective, allowing them to extract the resource while ensuring its return every year. They fished for today and tomorrow.

We can do that too.

Photo from Flickr - Ingrid Taylor

Adam Olsen

Stellys Cross Road, Brentwood Bay, BC, V8M 1J7