|These salmon and a carrot from our farm might have more in common than you would expect.|
At the same time, when I received a call asking our farm to participate in a salmon-related certification project last fall, something clicked.
The pitch went like this: The Pacific Salmon Foundation and the Fraser Basin Council were bringing an agricultural certification program to BC called Salmon-Safe. It already exists in Washington, Oregon and California. They need to see if the standards are applicable in a Canadian context. Would we agree to an inspection with the potential of being an early program participant?
I said yes; a couple of weeks later, an inspector visited the farm. This week, the program is launching publicly in the province.
Agriculture and marine life
One of the reasons the Salmon-Safe program resonated with me was because of an obvious link between agriculture and the health of aquatic ecosystems. What goes into the water directly impacts everything that lives in that water.
Around the world a number of aquatic dead zones exist in ocean areas into which large rivers flow. The largest dead zone is in the Gulf of Mexico, where the Mississippi River empties. The dead zone is caused by excessive nutrients feeding algae blooms. The algae decomposes, depriving the water of oxygen necessary for the survival of marine life. The excess nutrients feeding this situation come from agricultural runoff, the result of excess application of fertilizers and erosion.
Likewise, many agricultural pesticides are toxic to marine life. The improper use can result in the contamination of waterways. Excessive irrigation from streams can be harmful if the water source is home to aquatic life and the draw reduces water levels too much.
In many ways, the way we farm impacts the ecosystems upon which fish (and many other species) depend.
The gift of good soil
Of course, the relationship between agriculture and the health of salmon goes both ways. At our farm, the main fields are on the Fraser River floodplain. Although the river doesn't regularly flood this land anymore, the very fact that we have excellent soil is the result of previous millennia of nutrient deposits.
Not only did the river's cycle of flooding add nutrients from glacial deposits to the soil, it also deposited large quantities of fish. These fish decomposed, leaving an outstanding source of nutrients for vegetation along the river.
Likewise, each year when the salmon run, millions of fish carcasses lie along streams the feed the Fraser River. Wildlife hunt the living fish and also feed off of these expired fish, hauling the remains through the surrounding land. In the process, the surrounding lands are fertilized. In fact, BC's forests have had a very intimate relationship with salmon for this very reason.
Even today, when the river no longer floods, we still make use of the powerful fertility of fish through various organic fish fertilizers -- basically composted fish. Our farming practices, our forests and our wildlife are all dependent on the health of our salmon populations.
Salmon in BC
In addition to the physical links between salmon and the health of our ecosystems, there is a strong symbolic link with the salmon for the people of BC. Salmon are a keystone species in the province. Their homes stretch from the middle of the ocean to the very centre of the province in mountain streams. Over 130 species depend on salmon abundance for survival.
Many First Nations in the province continue to depend on salmon as a central food of traditional diets. So important was the salmon for these populations that the fish played a central role in their culture, mythology and religion.
The salmon is celebrated by people across the province who want to see the many species continue to thrive in the wild. In this light, we all have a part to play in protecting the habitat of an animal that is part of our cultural, ecological, economic and social fabric.
Salmon-Safe and the consumer
As a certification label, Salmon-Safe provides consumers with an additional tool when choosing products. For example, in the US many vineyards have joined the Salmon-Safe program. When faced with the choice of various wines, a salmon-friendly option might be a tipping point in making a purchasing decision.
Farms certified in the program are inspected by a third-party verification officer. The program's standards are scientifically-based. By choosing salmon-safe products, consumers know the item was produced in a manner that protects water quality and helps to restore wildlife habitat along salmon corridors in the province.
Ultimately, the Salmon-Safe program is recognition for what we're doing to establish a model of agriculture that is sustainable and contributes to the health of our environment and our society in general. It's part of how we strive to go beyond the basic criteria for organic status.
We hope to see the program expand to many more farms across the province and gain a recognition in customers' minds that links the agricultural producers they support with the health of the larger environment. It is in this spirit that we're excited to see the launch of Salmon-Safe BC this week.