A proposal to save the salmon in B.C.

British Columbia has been battling with struggling salmon stocks for some years now. Despite increasing restrictions on fishing quotas for both commercial and recreational fishing, heavy environmental changes have made it increasingly hard for salmon to make a strong come back.

Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said last week that the projected number of returning Fraser River sockeye this year is 600,000, down from the previous projection of five million.

The government has pointed a large finger towards climate change as the driving factor behind this. Certainly, one could see with all the tanker traffic, changing water temperatures, and pollution that this rings true.

To fix this big mess, the government has earmarked another $2.7 million in funding for projects under the British Columbia Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund.

I am no expert here, but with my knowledge of how the environment works, it usually takes time to fix a climate. Rivers take time to be cleaned, water temperatures take longer to get back to normal.

It seems the government is missing a critical factor to solving this problem: the fact that we humans are still eating the salmon.

The obvious and the most effective solution to help the salmon recover would be to ban all fishing on any salmon in B.C. No sport fishing, no commercial trawling, nothing. That would give the fish their best chance in replenishing their ranks, whilst in their rough climate changing waters.

Unfortunately, this will never happen. We love eating them more than we love saving them.

Throw in other political roadblocks such as the fishing industry lobby (lawsuits would be a’ flyin), or the Indigenous population’s right to fish, and this saving grace solution for salmon just doesn’t seem feasible.

So instead I propose we start whaling, to save the salmon.

Substitute Whale for Salmon

By substituting the demand for salmon meat with whale meat we could let the salmon get what they really need to replenish. Minke whales for example, can yield about 4 tonnes of meat.

Let's say if one sockeye weighs 15 pounds and yields 12 pounds of meat, then one minke whale could substitute 166 sockeye salmons worth of meat (2,000/12= 166). If we wanted to substitute the entire projected population of the B.C. salmon this year, 500,000, we could do that with just 3,012 minke whales (500,000/166 = 3,012.04).

But is that possible? How many are out there? There were an estimated 20,741 Common minke whales in Canadian Atlantic waters and Gulf of St Lawrence in 2007. Globally, the population is projected to be about 156,000.

Humpback whales could also be a strong option. An average minke whale weighs about 6 tons, but the average humpback weighs between 25 and 30 tons. The humpback whale could possibly yield 4-5 times more meat than a minke whale. According to the International Whaling Commission, “the present abundance [of Humpback whales] in the total North Pacific is estimated at over 17,000.”

It is also quite possible that whale is a more sustainable meat than beef. The Japan Times quoted a 2009 survey from the predecessor to Japan’s Fisheries Research and Education Agency, saying that “the amount of carbon dioxide produced to harvest 1 kilogram of whale meat, even counting the long distances that whaling ships traveled, was less than one-tenth of the amount created to produce 1 kg of beef.”

It is not absurd to think we can sustainably manage the harvesting of whales. For the most part, we use species-based conservation for hunting and fishing in Canada already. We could start whaling without a massive institutional overhaul.

The Moral Objection

If you don’t agree with my whaling proposal on moral grounds, consider this:

In our society we decide what is acceptable to eat and what is not. We would never eat a dog because there might be one beside your dinner table at home, begging for scraps. How could you eat one and own one at the same time? It’s unthinkable for Canadians.

Yet a cow from some farm in Alberta? Medium-rare please.

Who are we to say a cow doesn’t deserve the same right-to-life as a dog? Who is to say cows are not more sentient and emotionally capable than domestic pets?

Why is it more acceptable to kill salmon en masse than a relative-few minke or humpback whales?

It seems we deem what animals can and can’t be killed based mainly on our perceived levels of their sentience.

I propose that we should make national dietary decisions based on rationality and not sentience pity. Especially if it means we can save a massive population of species for the cost of a relatively small number of other species.

The Japanese have moved past their moral reservations of eating seemingly-innocent animals. It is time for us Canadians to do so as well and eat some whales for the sake of the environment.

What about the taste? Well, full disclosure, this summer I ate some whale nigiri in Osaka, Japan. I personally think it tastes quite alright. With a little soy sauce I would even say it was delightful.

So come on everyone, kill the whales, and save the salmon.