Preface to the 1975 Edition
Fall is the time that most of the migratory runs come back to the rivers here on the Pacific Coast of North America. All our five species of Pacific salmon come home then except for a few early-running chinooks and cohos. Most of the winter-spawning cutthroat trout run into the rivers then. The last of the summer-run steelhead and the first of the winter runs almost close the gap between themselves. It is the liveliest, most exciting time of all the year. Gulls and eagles, goldeneyes and mergansers, bears and mink and raccoons all come down to the rivers.
We know so much more about these migratory runs than we once did: where they go in the oceans, how they move through the ocean years, even a little of how they find their way back to their rivers of origin. We know something of their fresh-water needs and timing. We know that each species of fish that runs to a major watershed has many subraces that are peculiarly adapted, each to its own particular part of the watershed. We know that these wild stocks have wide genetic variations that can enable them to survive and rebuild in the face of disease or natural disaster. We know much more than this—about survival rates and growth rates, the timing of downstream migration, the importance of feeding in the estuaries, and the river’s plume of fresh-water flow over salt. We know we can tamper with these things only at great risk to the survival of the runs.
How much more is there that we don’t know and should have learned by now? In British Columbia we do not yet recognize fish production as one of the uses of fresh water, yet without fresh water we would have neither salmon nor trout nor char nor eulachons, and we should be much the poorer for that. We know that logging and most other forms of land use can be very damaging to watersheds unless carefully controlled, but we have not yet learned how to exercise this control. We know that hatcheries are of doubtful value at best, and ruinous at worst, and we know there are better and more productive alternatives. Yet we haven’t examined those alternatives thoroughly and we haven’t learned ways of putting them to work. We know that streams can be protected and their productivity substantially increased, but we haven’t as yet really learned how to go about it or cared to put real effort into the learning. We still trust engineers and technologists, or say we do, which might be all right if the fish responded to them with equal faith, but they don’t. The fish respond to their own biology and to the fresh-and salt-water conditions that serve it.
We know so much and so little about the anadromous salmons and trouts. What we do know would be enough to save them if we put it to full use. In British Columbia, where we are not cursed with main stem dams on our major rivers, we could hope to return all our streams to full fertility and maximum production. It is a dream I like to dwell on when I am along the fall rivers. The salmon themselves clean and refresh the gravels of the stream bottom in their spawning activities; later their dead bodies feed fertility to the stream itself, benefiting all the creatures that use it, including their own progeny. There is a charm of interdependency in all this, some magic statement of unity and completeness that gives promise of a return to rivers of primitive abundance. It is more than a dream really. I believe we can achieve it, though there may have to be a little more order and regularity in the new abundance.
Campbell River, B.C.