Catching the Elusive Salmon Farming Story

This blog piece is part of the Sustainability Peer Program. In the program, students were asked to create a sustainability initiative as a way to foster sustainability leadership on and off campus. Each student or group was asked to complete a reflection about their initiative. For our last reflection, Kris Cu talks about the origins of his sustainability passions and how he created an audio documentary on BC salmon farming.

Coming Full Circle

Growing up in a bustling city in the Philippines, I had very little interaction with nature. My way out of this was reading numerous books and watching endless TV shows about the natural world. One show that I grew quite fond of was Whale Wars on Animal Planet. The reality program follows Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a non-profit marine conservation organization as they try to stop Japanese whalers from killing whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Amazed by the crew’s passion and commitment, I have followed the group ever since.

Fast forward to the summer of 2016, I had just moved to beautiful British Columbia and finally witnessing the wonders I read about as a child.  One summer evening, I read that Sea Shepherd is sending a vessel to our coast. I was beyond excited. I wanted to meet the crew and ask them about their experiences but at the same time, I became very worried. I knew that Sea Shepherd only showed up when situations are dire.

This was when I first learned about salmon farming in BC. The practice of growing hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon in open net pens in the ocean without ANY filtration system for the feed, wastes and diseases that emanate from the farms. These have profound impacts on the marine life on our coast, especially to the fragile wild salmon stocks. Added to the environmental issue, it is also a human rights issue. A third of the farms are situated in unceded Coast Salish territories where they were never given consent to be there. 

A salmon farm off the BC coast. Source.

First Nations stand united against fish farms situated in their unceded territories. Source.

I brought this topic up with my peers and to my great surprise, they have never heard of it. I was astounded at how this Norwegian-owned industry has been in BC for over thirty years, yet many are unaware of the issue. Knowing how much was at stake if the wild salmon disappeared and knowing what it’s like to grow up without nature, it became clear to me that I needed to contribute to the cause.

I decided to work on a project that would tell the narrative from beginning to present - the plight of the wild salmon and the Indigenous peoples, and the stories of the groups who have been at the front lines. I determined that the best way to convey the information was through an audio documentary (big thank you to Jayme and Radiolab for the inspiration). That way, anybody, and everybody could learn about the issue even with their busy lives.

I realized I have come full circle, just like the life cycle of the wild salmon. From seemingly unimportant childhood TV shows to finally taking concrete actions.

The Journey Upriver

Creating an audio documentary without any experience with interviewing, recording, handling, and editing audio was a monumental task to embark on but thankfully, I had several peers and mentors to help and support me through the journey. (Thank you so much to Jesse, Jao, Rachel, Gianjeet, Ren, Priscilla, Angela, Zara & Nikki)

The research into the thirty-year history of salmon farming in our coast was very rigorous. The more I dove into the story, the more rabbit holes I found. From government conspiracies to muzzling scientists to videos of “ghost fish” to the attempt of establishing an invasive species- the story had so many wrongs and so few rights. I came into the project thinking my knowledge was in deep water but really, I was still on the shoreline…

Two complementary challenges immediately surfaced: the short timeline and the lack of skill sets. The timeline was the most challenging as I worked on the project by myself and there were always fifty tasks to be done daily. Researching the story had to be done simultaneously with contacting collaborators and creating media kits etc. I realized some self-sacrifice was needed to be able to complete the tasks.

I also attended numerous fundraisers to learn more and to speak with passionate individuals. In doing so, I got to see David Suzuki multiple times (no I did not get a picture) and met the people and the tightknit families that make up the movement. 

Hearing from Chief Ernest Alfred and David Suzuki in wild salmon fundraisers.

Afternoons were spent exploring the teachings of the Indigenous peoples while late nights were spent interviewing frontline salmon protectors in the studio.

The journey upriver never really eased but given another opportunity, I would’ve partnered up with more team members to breakdown difficult tasks and to share skillsets.

It’s Not Just About the Salmon

I have spent most of my life in a city where the waters have been polluted and the Indigenous people have been forgotten. I often felt upset at the generation before me and questioned why they did nothing despite witnessing environmental degradation. Their inaction has led countless generations of children unable to chat by creeks, relax by the bay, hike through rich forests and swim in the lakes- something we often take for granted here in BC. 

I think back to the teachings of the Indigenous people and their close connection with the land. They acknowledge a reciprocal relationship with mother nature; one had to take care of the land for the land to take care of you.

I realized this story is more than just about saving wild salmon. This story is about our relationship with the natural world and how much we value that relationship. Will we stand by, turn away and hope someone solves the problem? Or will we stand up and fight for what we love? The salmon are the lifeblood of this province, they have sustained this environment and its people for thousands and thousands of years. Without them, our nature, culture, economy, and identity as a nation would forever be lost. This is the plight of our coast.

Listen to the first chapter of the Plight of the Coast here:

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