A rare display of courage


The Discovery Islands are a wild salmon-based economy.

Marine-based wilderness tourism in the Discovery Islands generates over 50 million dollars and employs upwards of 1,000 people per year, second only to tourism in Tofino/Pacific Rim. Tourism within the islands rivals or exceeds forest industry revenue and employment here. The Discovery Islands have resort and marina infrastructure capitalized to about one half billion dollars. More grizzly bear watching tours depart this area than any other jurisdiction in BC. A dozen motorized wildlife tour companies based out of Campbell River generate about 10 million dollars each year. Operating in the calm and weather friendly Discovery Islands these tour companies are set to overtake the Pacific Rim whale watching industry. Additionally, there are five internationally recognized kayak tour companies.

Wild salmon are the quintessential heart of the wilderness tourism sector here with most marine mammals and large predators dependent on salmon. Scientists agree the main reason for decline of the southern resident orcas is a lack of food: Chinook salmon. An intensive wild salmon recovery program should be a central goal for the DFO on BC’s inner south coast. This could be a valuable role for unemployed fish farm workers. Recovering wild salmon stocks to historic levels would reinvigorate the commercial and sport fishing sectors adding $1.5 billion to the economy.

The tourism sector in the Discovery Islands continues to grow and business operators consistently have problems finding sufficient staff. Claims that tourism doesn’t pay well isn’t true. Discovery Islands’ tourism has a high value added component. Visitors are attracted to “high end” activities like motorized riptide tours, guided salmon fishing, whale and grizzly bear watching and waterfront accommodation. There is constant demand and good pay for boat operators, kayak guides, fishing guides, nature interpreters and resort staff. There are also opportunities for Discovery Islands’ entrepreneurs, not only in tourism, but related fields such as construction, property maintenance, transportation and so on.

Historically, Campbell River was a forest based economy comprising a pulp mill and two sawmills which employed over 900 people with high paying union jobs. All those jobs disappeared within a decade and there is no value added wood manufacturing left in the area today. Yet anyone visiting Campbell River today would never suspect that. Campbell River is thriving because of its high quality natural environment and despite being diminished in numbers; wild salmon are an important part of that success.

It is generally accepted that few of us will have the same job for a lifetime and this is true for Discovery Islands’ fish farm workers. Major disruptions in the economy are common these days. Witness the millions of jobs lost in the retail and media sectors by digital/internet technology. Despite severe economic hardship, most well educated workers found meaningful, well paid employment in the succeeding era. This underscores the importance for workers to have the best education possible and access to continuing education to acquire the skills necessary for re-employment.

The eviction of fish farms from the Discovery Islands and the unfortunate job losses is actually a rare display of courage on the part of the DFO. On Canada’s east coast, for fifty years the DFO protected jobs over cod conservation. In the end, we lost the cod and all the jobs. Maybe the DFO has finally learned from its mistakes.

Ralph Keller,

Coast Mountain Expeditions & Dis. Islands Lodge