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Apr-27-2012 14:05printcomments

A Twin Dilemma Solved... Something Fishy On The Fraser

And the Gulf's New Tourist Mecca...
From The Canadian Shield

Fraser River in Canada

(SASKATCHEWAN) - If Jesus could be beamed down to earth, let's say just east of where the Port Mann Bridge spans the mighty Fraser River above its huge embouchure at the city of Vancouver, I'm not only certain that He could walk on the water, but in fact it would not require any divine circumvention as to viscosity, hydraulic principles or gravity. On the other hand, if He were to attempt to replicate the loaves-and-fishes routine, He just might have a problem. Because the Dead Sea was never like this.

Hold onto that thought. I'll get back to you.

Recent concern has been expressed by such disparate searchers after truth as the National Post in Toronto and the David Suzuki Foundation, over two grave problems: (a) the apparent demise of the B.C. salmon fishery, and (b) the emulsification of the Gulf of Mexico. I want to assure both concerned institutions that I've thoroughly researched both topics, and all of their alarm is unwarranted. Things are just peachy-keen in both locations.

First, the alleged salmon paucity, especially the once great annual Fraser salmon migration from the salt chuck 1500 kilometers up river to spawn. (Canadian salmon do metric, as distinct from Alaska salmon, although the latter have other problems, such as the Exxon-Valdez residue.) Nobody knows why those Fraser River salmon eschew the seacoast in order to spawn. With people, the choice of a spawning venue is just the other way around.

This huge migration just isn't happening any more and nobody knows why. (Except me.) In 1999, the most recent count was 15 million fish, give or take. Now there's not a damn fish in sight. They're just like out to lunch. Why?

And sure enough, this being Canada, whenever you have a problem, you do what, class? Anybody? Right, you appoint a Commission to look into it, once known in the old days, when the Saxe-Coburghs were officially calling the shots, as a Royal Commission.

This one is a doozie. The Cohen Commission is chaired by B.C. Supreme Court Judge Bruce Cohen, which makes a lot of sense because as we all know, lawyers, and particularly Supreme Court Judges, know all about fish. The Commission has been muddling through in its eighth-floor air-conditioned office in downtown Vancouver for quite a while on a niggardly budget of $25 million, and so far has documented scads of exhibits and has a year or so to go before announcing where the salmon have split to.

Some of the testimony is cool. Most of it comes from university professors, who know almost as much about fish as lawyers and judges do. Recently, UBC Professor Douglas Harris allowed as how the original deal between the Hudson's Bay Company and local natives back in 1850 or so was typically generous in the amount of fishing the English company allowed the natives to take of their own fish, but that subsequent governments have gradually been cutting down on the native “food fishery.” (Which makes sense, since there aren't nearly as many Indians now, thanks to the genocide.)

Of course, there are also (1) the commercial fishery, and (2) the sport fishery, which are minor considerations in blaming somebody, except perhaps for the cigars that those rich American sport fishermen throw into the polluted Fraser. But no cigar, apparently, in the Commission's affixing blame.

Another distinguished Prof from Trent University in Ontario, already famous for its astute scholar John Milloy, sometimes known as Trent University Fats, popular consultant and commentator for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission ($68 million) and frequent participant at conferences and other events which provide at least an hors d'oeuvre layout if not a smorgasbord table. This new entrant to the field of socio-economic inquiry, Professor Frances Widdowson, comes up with the discovery that “contrary to public wisdom, aboriginal peoples don't have an ingrained conservation ethic.”

Wow. You mean that, given they're a bunch of shiftless no-count loafers living in the lap of luxury on those rent-free reserves, not to mention those opulent skid row digs, the chances are they're responsible for over-fishing and ergo – there's no salmon left? It ties in with Fats Milloy's testimony that the Indian Residential School business has been exaggerated and that we're dealing with a situation that can probably be solved by $68 million spent on HIS Commission and a few smorgasbords held around the country to which native genocide survivors should of course pay their own way. (Fats bellies up to the table free, of course.)

But it would solve the problem for Mr Justice Cohen and his air-conditioned fellow Commissioners, wouldn't it? Blame it on those shiftless Indians.

Actually, I have two suggestions that might both explain (a) Where have all the salmon gone? And (b) what do we do about it?

First of all, go ahead and blame the Indians, even though, since Captain George Vancouver dropped anchor just off Kits Beach, the white population has gone from 1 – Captain George himself – to 2.1 million. Meanwhile, the native population has been reduced to about 1% of its former magnitude. So guess who gobbled up all the salmon? (And, according to Prof Widdowson, didn't give a damn where they threw the entrails.)

Answer? Nobody. The damn fish just checked out. I'll tell you where they went in a minute, after I proceed to save The Cohen Commission whatever is left of their $25 mill. If the Cohen Commission were to absent themselves from felicity and air-conditioning awhile, and along the Fraser River draw their breath in pain, they might discover that the sludge of pollution produced by those two million white folks, their flushings and their factorings, creates the situation I outlined in the first paragraph above, whereby for the Son of God to walk on the surface of this river would not be difficult. Nor would it be difficult for anyone else, even Fats Milloy.

And so the natural question that any healthy salmon might ask (and which leads to the answer) might be: “How would you like to swim against the current in this crap, never mind 1,500 kilometers, but even for 60 miles, say as far as Chilliwack?”

Furthermore, I can tell you where the salmon have gone. I live in Florida, and I'm often confronted with a menu that offers “Alaska Salmon” at of course larcenous prices. And I've often raged that this entree was probably domiciled in Prince Rupert, at the mouth of the Skeena, but fell victim to those marauding seiners from Anchorage.

But now I'm convinced that all those Fraser River salmon live on. They've simply followed that ancient dirge: “Northward – to Alaska!” Why not follow the cruise ships? The salmon aren't subject to passports or security or strip searching. All they need to put up with, apart from dodging the Alaska seiners, is the faint residual detritus left by the Exxon-Valdez. Far easier to take than the sewers of New Westminster.

So what do we do about it? The people of Vancouver, rich and poor, from skid row to the Supreme Court, have no fish? Let them eat canned Alaska salmon. They give thee but thine own.

Now for the second vexatious question, the Gulf (of Mexico) Oil Spill. Carin Bondar, a worried Vancouver writer, supports the view of the David Suzuki Foundation, from whence Suzuki has recently retired as Chairman, sick and tired, I understand, of banging his head against the conservative establishment. (I think it's time he was retiring anyway, since he's sort of a contemporary of mine – he was a prof at UBC when I was a superannuated grad student. I used to call him "Sir." Now I call him Dave.)

“The Gulf,” writes Carin, “ has long been home to many of the most productive fisheries in the U.S., primary catches being crustaceans (shrimp) and molluscs (oysters, clams and other shellfish). It's not about whether the seafood caught from the Gulf of Mexico has toxins in it. There is no question that it does. It's about determining an appropriate level of toxin ingestion for the average human diet.

“The main contaminants from an oil spill are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are carcinogens. These toxins remain active for extremely long periods. These compounds are associated with stunted growth, anemia and kidney disease in humans. Napthalene is one of the most frequently detected PAHs in seafood, and this compound is strongly associated with cancer risk. (Yikes. -Ed.)

“The allowable quantities do not take into account the more vulnerable members of the population such as pregnant women and young children. (Fortunately, my youngest child is older than Obama and my wife is past child-bearing. -Ed.)

“Will I be eating any seafood from the Gulf of Mexico? Likely not, for a few reasons: I do not live close to the area, and I won't actively seek out products that come from there. Folks who live near the Gulf of Mexico do not have the luxury of that choice. I'm lucky to live here in British Columbia where the waters are free from oil rigs and pipelines.”

Hold it right there, Carin. I know a little something about the Gulf of Mexico. My late brother Ron lived hard by Padre Island, which he considered paradise, and which I always contested, pointing out that it was pres de where 85 million Mexicanos routinely flushed, and also deposited the concrete-footed victims of the drug wars.

But latterly, since the Spill, you apparently haven't heard that British Petroleum has turned over a new leaf. In fact, currently, the four Gulf States, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida have launched a massive ad campaign to attract tourists to our Gulf Wonderland – a veritable Tourist Mecca? And guess who, with its corporate largesse, using the money they should have been devoting to updating disaster-prevention technology – and haven;'t - is funding the entire campaign? Your friend and mine, British Petroleum. God bless BP and the hearse they rode in on.

By the by, Carin, you say you're thankful that you live in B.C. and not in Florida, where we are constrained to eat shellfish along with our Geritol. Now hear this:

    You live 3500 miles farther away from the Gulf of Mexico than I do, and there you have the advantage over me. But I live 3500 miles farther away from the Fukushima meltdown than you do. And there I have the advantage over you.

    Chacun a son gout.


Bill Annett grew up a writing brat; his father, Ross Annett, at a time when Scott Fitzgerald and P.G. Wodehouse were regular contributors, wrote the longest series of short stories in the Saturday Evening Post's history, with the sole exception of the unsinkable Tugboat Annie.

At 18, Bill's first short story was included in the anthology “Canadian Short Stories.” Alarmed, his father enrolled Bill in law school in Manitoba to ensure his going straight. For a time, it worked, although Bill did an arabesque into an English major, followed, logically, by corporation finance, investment banking and business administration at NYU and the Wharton School. He added G.I. education in the Army's CID at Fort Dix, New Jersey during the Korean altercation.

He also contributed to The American Banker and Venture in New York, INC. in Boston, the International Mining Journal in London, Hong Kong Business, Financial Times and Financial Post in Toronto.

Bill has written six books, including a page-turner on mutual funds, a send-up on the securities industry, three corporate histories and a novel, the latter no doubt inspired by his current occupation in Daytona Beach as a law-abiding beach comber.

You can write to Bill Annett at this address:

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