Evidence of what looks like thousands of dead salmon offers a horrific snapshot of a severe drought that has gripped British Columbia.
Photos and video taken last week at the head of Neekas Cove in Heiltsuk Territory depict the salmon lying at the bottom of a dried-out creek bed. As the video scans the horizon, all the viewer can see are dead fish. The salmon – mostly pink and some chum – are shown laying where they died, across fallen branches and large boulders in what was once a healthy creek.
Sarah Mund, a German researcher working with the Heiltsuk Nation in Bella Bella, on B.C.’s Central Coast, shared video and photos with The Globe and Mail.
“We’ve had such a dry summer and fall. Salmon are returning to spawn, but water levels continue to drop, and they are running out of space and oxygen,” said William Housty, conservation manager with the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department. The situation is mostly impacting pink salmon that return to spawn every two years.
Mr. Housty said Heiltsuk researchers are reporting low levels on creeks throughout their 17,000-square-kilometre territory on B.C.’s Central Coast.
Mr. Housty said he has never seen such severe fall drought conditions in his lifetime: “Generally, by this time of year, it’s the heavy rain that’s causing problems.”
Climate change shares a lot of the blame, he said, noting the Heiltsuk have periodically halted all fishing in the territory to try to help salmon stocks rebound.
“It’s very, very frustrating to see the continual decline of salmon runs for decades now. Then to have Mother Nature throw a monkey wrench like this. It’s really hard to see.”
According to the Weather Network, Las Vegas has seen more rain in the last three months than the 41 millimetres recorded at Vancouver International Airport in the same period.
B.C.’s west and south coasts as well as the province’s northeast have experienced little to no rainfall over the past five weeks with continued dry weather in the forecast. Several regions have reached Drought Level 4 in the province’s five-level scale, including the Sunshine Coast basin, the Lower Mainland basin and the east and west Vancouver Island basins.
At Drought Level 4, socioeconomic and ecosystem impacts are likely, the provincial government said in a news release Tuesday.
Last weekend, the BC Wildfire Service warned the seemingly endless summer conditions mean the conditions for late fires are real.
Neal McLoughlin, superintendent of the BCWS’s predictive services, said the season was unusual because it started slowly and was damp, with a delayed snowmelt, then it transitioned into hot, dry conditions by July that continue to persist into October.
Temperatures are about five to eight degrees above normal for this time of year, and there’s been little to no rain in several parts of B.C. in weeks.
“We are starting to switch the status of a lot of our fires to ‘being held’ or ‘under control,’ but there still is fire activity on the landscape,” Mr. McLoughlin said in an interview. “I would suggest, while we are maintaining this hot, dry, precipitation-free period, fire season is by no means over yet.”
With files from The Canadian Press