ROTHENBURGER: Salmon airlift a justified response to Mother Nature

(Image: Govt of BC)

An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

I HAD A RIDE in a helicopter once, or maybe twice.

A few thousand or million salmon will get the same opportunity now that officials have decided to capture them below the Big Bar rock slide near Lillooet and fly them upstream to their spawning grounds.

The slide has created a barrier that the fish are having trouble getting through.

Time is of the essence as the main salmon migration will get started in a couple of weeks.

I don’t know how much it will cost but I do know helicopter rides don’t come cheap. The salmon cannon was my personal favourite option, and is said to be cheaper than using helicopters.

The salmon cannon has been in use for several years in Washington state to shoot fish past hydro-electric dams. It’s actually a long vacuum tube and is, apparently, easy on the fish.

For whatever reason, federal and provincial officials have decided against the cannon and given the nod to the airlift.

Which is already giving the shivers to those who are instantly convinced it’s just another waste of hard-earned tax dollars. Surely, we can find better things to spend money on, they say. Low-income housing, potholes, drug addictions and the like. Maybe even save some whales and elephants.

Let Mother Nature have her way, they say — stop interfering.

But Mother Nature doesn’t always get it right. Sometimes, we have to fight back, and not just because we like fish.

This is an economic and environmental decision. Disruption of a major salmon run can impact commercial, recreational and First Nations fish harvests as well as the health of killer whales, perhaps for years.

This is one time fighting Mother Nature is worth it.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and newspaper editor. He publishes the opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at

About Mel Rothenburger (7629 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

4 Comments on ROTHENBURGER: Salmon airlift a justified response to Mother Nature

  1. Tony Brumell // July 22, 2019 at 2:30 PM // Reply

    Whoosh inovations have produced an “inovative “solution to some turbulance related problems. I’m not convinced that this vacuum cannon is the best answer but it is a start. It seems to me that this slide is a good place to start on the development of new tech.How high are the numbers of fish and the size of them to get through the cannon ?The answer may be simpler and cheaper than we think. Float (on pontoons ) a half kilometer of 12 in nPVC pipe from above the falls down river until it reaches from one side to the other. Anchor it from hard points up stream and let it ride the current .Water should flow through it in a laminar flow which the fish should be able to swim against. With no turbulance it would greatly decrease the obstacles they encounter within the falls. and the number of fish moving through it would be sufficient to allow a large escapement to the high side of the falls with the probability of greatly reduced cost and re use,
    Just a thought.

  2. Ian M MacKenzie // July 22, 2019 at 10:22 AM // Reply

    If indigenous people were still onlyspearing the migrating fish from cliffs on their route upstream as they were doing before contact there would probably be sufficient fish manouvering through almost any natural change of the river’s course. The fish runs then would have been enormous. But now, a couple of hundred years after contact, and with the impact of fish farms, plasticised ocean pollution, siltation from logging practices that destroy spawning areas, a DFO that seems to have no idea of the number of fish in any run or route, governments that give in to lobbyists, etc., the fish runs are so diminished that it’s even greater guesswork as to how many fish of a species survives to lay their eggs and continue their race. They truly are in a sad and battered way.
    Like all other extractive industries, fisheries have given in to uncontrolled human use and political persuasion and must now be maintained by unnatural means. Helicoptering is one way. Perhaps not the cheapest way but better than doing nothing and watch further species extinction.
    Let’s get it done and and try to build up stocks in the future with fish ladders or some other proveable method.

  3. Bill Hadgkiss // July 22, 2019 at 9:04 AM // Reply

    By adding more rocks downstream, the single 5 metre falls could be stretched out to be more like rapids containing many smaller falls, maybe?

  4. David Goar // July 22, 2019 at 7:57 AM // Reply

    It is an odd reflection of our values and priorities that philanthropic billionaires commit billions to restore Notre Dame Cathedral ( a unique man made wonder ) and yet people grumble about spending money to save an older and more spectacular natural wonder.

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