Hungry Bears...

By Neil Shearar - Bluewater Skipper

Last year while running a wilderness expedition on the remote British Columbia north coast I had an incredible shock. We visit coastal estuaries in the hopes of encountering bears, Grizzly bears and Black bears feeding on salmon that migrate up the rivers to spawn in the late summer and fall. I have run these bear focused trips for many years. On a typical year I expect to see many thousands of salmon in any one of the estuaries we visit. Last year I was stunned to find that there appeared to have been an absolute collapse of fish stocks within the estuaries we visit.

One river, typically a Grizzly hot spot, seemed very quiet on our initial approach, the tell tale bald eagles which dot the green tree tops with their white heads and the seals which hang around in the river mouth were suspiciously absent. As we entered the river we expected to see large schools of fish hiding from predators as they migrate upstream, carcasses of spawned out fish washing downstream and covering the bottom where they nourish the estuary and river mouth, also partially consumed salmon carcasses strewn along the banks where bears and wolves had left remains that the eagles and other animals would clean up. We saw nothing, not one fish. Normally this place would be ripe with the scent of decaying salmon, there were none.

We made our way up river and climbed out onto the river bank, pushed our way through some brush and yelled "Hey Bear" to make our presence known as we hiked up a narrow bear trail. We broke out into a sedge meadow with open sight lines and then quietly scouted around. There was a lot of "bear sign" more than usual, bears had been excavating, feeding on the bulbs and root systems of estuary plants. Bears typically do this earlier in the summer while they wait for the return of salmon to the estuary. There was also the occasional berry filled scat, further indication that bears were around. We sat tight and scanned the meadow for signs of movement, as bears often bed down in the sedge grass to rest during the mid day. Finally after a time there was some movement, a juvenile male Grizzly came out of the tree line and ventured out into the open. This was the skinniest bear I had ever seen, his ribs were showing through his coat. Typically bears we view at this time of year are rotund having gorged on fish in preparation for winter. We saw no other bears that day in a place we normally would count on seeing many. It appeared as though the bears had waited in anticipation of their yearly bounty that never came.

I saw this scene played over in many of the amazing places I take people to experience in the B.C. coastal wilderness, it is a great concern. The loss of wild salmon stocks on the North American west coast is catastrophic and tragic. The north Pacific salmon run may be the largest movement of biomass on the planet and is the primary natural source of protein for the entire region. There are a few likely reasons for the stock declines, some we can do little about, some we can.

It is clear that the effects of salmon farms on wild salmon migration routes are a major factor. Alex Morton is a biologist from the Broughton Archipelago, her research has clearly shown these effects, she has been fighting an uphill battle, campaigning against strong financial interests to put an end to the current system of salmon farming. There is a petition running collecting names to show that the public are aware of this issue and wish to see more effective management of wilderness recourses.

Please view the web site and sign the petition. Some people may perceive these causes as liberal, socialist and even bleeding heart. Please suspend this perception for one moment, this is as conservative as it gets, the growing and sustainable tourism industry in which I am employed is at stake. B.C has incredible untapped tourism potential which will provide employment and economic growth on the coast for years to come. Our wilderness as a resource needs to be better managed.

Please forward this message to as many people as you can and sign the petition if you care. Current number signed is 14 000, we need thousands more if this issue is to receive any real attention.

Neil Shearar


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