A canoe journey on the Lower Fraser River by Wild Salmon Defenders Alliance Saturday (Oct. 21) was a “wake-up call” on water to protect critical salmon habitat.
Paddlers with the ‘Canoe Journey and Coastal Jam’ went from the Cheam Fishing Village near Agassiz, to Shxwhá:y Village near Chilliwack for lunch, before pushing on to Matsqui Village near Mission for a Coastal Jam.
“The canoe journey is a way to celebrate our collective commitment and action to restore, preserve and conserve critical habitats for endangered salmon, sturgeon, eulachon and other fish species,” said organizer Eddie Gardner, president of Wild Salmon Defenders Alliance.
The paddlers are honouring the irreplaceable habitat, and ecosystems, with the paddle as a show of stewardship, and advocacy. The journey will see ceremonies, and press statements along the journey as they spend time in three Stó:lō communities along the river.
They chose a symbolic “wake-up call” with a canoe paddle on the Fraser in part because of how critical habitat is to endangered salmon and other species, given the level of ongoing degradation and compromised wetland areas, Gardner said.
“There is increasing public awareness about the alarming reduction in fish habitat, and federal, provincial and municipal government officials need to pay even closer attention to this and put a much higher priority on the protection of wild salmon and its habitat,” Gardner said.
Those side channels in the river system, and the wetlands are irreplaceable crucibles of biodiversity, for rearing, spawning and more of the iconic salmon as well as sturgeon.
“We cannot afford not to invest in the restoration and preservation of wetlands and river side channels like the Hope Slough.”
This is especially true in the “Heart of the Fraser,” Gardner underlined, the name given to the gravel reach section of the Lower Fraser stretching from Yale to Mission. This stretch is the heart because it is identified as having the conditions necessary to produce runs of all five salmon species, which makes it unique in the world, but conservation concerns have been dominating headlines.
He pointed to Hope Slough restoration project being spearheaded by the Pelolxw Tribe, (Cheam, Skwah, Shxwhá:y) which will help improve habitat around the Hope Slough, the Gill Bar area and the wing dike on Island 22.
“Conservation and enhancement of wetlands and river side channels will go a long way to ensure that we give endangered salmon a chance to survive,” Gardner said.
“We deeply appreciate the investments that federal, and provincial governments are making towards fish and fish habitat, yet much more needs to be done. Further industrial destruction of salmon habitats would result in pushing this keystone species further into extinction. This can and must be prevented.”
Gardner’s related work in recent years through Wild Salmon Defenders Alliance was advocating for the removal of open-net fish farm pens from the migratory routes of Fraser salmon stocks by the federal government which achieved some of those goals.
“We did make some in-roads in that regard, and are continuing that fight for wild salmon to keep the coastal waters free of open-net pens,” he said. “Now we are turning our attention to habitat, contributing our time, energy and creativity to support this work.”