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Sockeye Salmon

The first salmonberry blossoms are out and the hummingbirds have arrived, spring is here! A time of hope, rebirth and renewal- or at least it should be.

Young salmon are about to leave the freshwater lake and river systems bound for their life in the open sea. But first they must pass through the fish farm infested waters on the inside of Vancouver Island. Farmed salmon have been implicated in acting as a repository for sea lice and other pathogens and when juvenile wild salmon swim by these farms, they pick up a potentially lethal dose.

Currently, there is no clear path for the wild salmon to swim through. Every single channel and passage to the north of the Straight Of Georgia has salmon farms situated in them. There are no fish farm free routes for the wild salmon to take. Several agencies have been pressing to clear out a single route, to have the fish farms removed through Hoskyn Channel and Okisollo Channel. Given the the huge labyrinth of islands and channels on the BC coast, surely one farm free route is not too much to ask to ensure the survival of wild salmon?

Of particular concern this year is the sockeye salmon. While last year’s run was inexplicably huge, the young salmon running to sea this spring are from the 2009 run which was a disaster. The returning spawning salmon in 2009 amounted to only 10% of what was expected and so every single young sockeye running to sea this spring is vital for the continued viability of that run of sockeye. But now to add insult to injury, instead of clearing Hoskyn Channel to give the wild salmon a fighting chance at survival, yet another fish farm has just been activated in these waters bringing the total to 6 farms along this waterway alone.

So now we have the progeny of the catastrophic 2009 sockeye run migrating out past sea lice and virus laden fish farms to face a very uncertain future at sea. There’s the globally changing ocean conditions resulting in shifts in food species. There’s the threat of radiation and vast amounts of pollution and debris emanating from Japan. There’s the host of other natural threats that have always been there, to keep the salmon in balance with their environment; they feed the orca, bears, eagles, sea lions and even the very forests which maintain their spawning rivers.

So what part of this equation is within our power to change? Now? Today before the out migration of salmon begins? We can move the salmon farms out of Hoskyn Channel! Over in Campbell River, the first commercial trials of closed containment salmon farms have just begun operations. Open net farms that allow the transmission of pathogens to the wild fish will hopefully soon be a thing of the past. But that cannot happen fast enough to save these already critically weak wild salmon runs. Sure, in the short term a few jobs might be lost but in the long term we may aid the survival of the wild fish that are so important to the environmental and economic health of the BC coast.

Japanese Tsunami

The students arrive aboard just before lunch on Mondays, grade 9’s from Calgary all excited about their upcoming week at sea. For some it is their first time seeing the ocean but for all it is their first time experiencing the close confinement of life on a sailing ship.

The first thing I try to impress upon them at our safety talk is that once we are away, we are on our own . There will be no easy access to medical aid, fire trucks or rescue. We need to take care of ourselves, each other and the ship. The kids will need to learn how to move around on the boat. Bumps on the head are common place. They’ll learn how to squeeze past each other in tight corridors instead of maintaining big personal space and they learn how keeping their gear neat and tidy will make the boat much more liveable. Often it is the first time some students have had to do dishes and scrub toilets. Keeping the boat ship-shape is a life skill that everyone can benefit from learning.

But outside of the tight quarters of the boat, it is a big world out there. We are going to take the students kayaking, for beach and forest walks and we’ll teach them how to work a sailing ship. The ocean is going to teach us just how wild she can be. Sailing in February and March, we expect some gnarly weather and this year had it’s share of gales and squalls in addition to ice skimming over the anchorages, cold hands as they worked the sailing rig and then day after day of soaking rain. But it is when the waves build and the motion starts, that’s when the uncontrollable force of the ocean becomes apparent. There is no stopping this ride until the next sheltered waterway is reached, no matter how seasick anyone is! And that is a great lesson to learn. We humans don’t control the world. And the price of the lesson is just a little discomfort.

We learned of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami on the weather radio Friday morning. Nothing was reported of the damage only that there was no danger for the inner coastal waters of BC. We sailed our last day in peace, our world focused within the hull of our vessel. Seals, sea-lions and eagles were sighted as we ghosted along under sail. Later in the afternoon, the first inkling as to the power of the events occurring across the Pacific was the strange current that sucked and pulled the boat as we left Tsehum Harbour.

Yes, it’s a fragile vessel we’re riding on, we better take care of it kids. And each another too.

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