Salmon festivals are a uniquely BC tradition but celebrating salmon with a feast isn’t as easy with the number of returning fish continuing to decrease. The 2017 preliminary outlook by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans says that while there is a slight improvement over last year’s salmon returns, the numbers are still low.
The Fraser River, for example, is expecting to see just a third of the usual 4.5 million salmon that return each year, according to Jennifer Nener, director of salmon management for the federal DFO.
As the summer fades into fall and communities across BC gear up to celebrate the return of the salmon to their home rivers, celebrations are reflecting the times. While some celebrate the cultural significance of salmon, others use the occasion to encourage sustainable feasting. Here are a few upcoming festivals on our radar.
Pink salmon are one of the few bright spots thanks to an abundant 8.7 million fish expected to return to the Fraser River this fall. (Source) Commercially, the fish is undervalued according to Robert Clark, chef and co-owner of Vancouver’s Fish Counter restaurant and one of the founders of Ocean Wise, a sustainable seafood initiative.
“Pink is a feel-good story,” he says. That’s because pink salmon is the most abundant, and its short lifespan – the shortest of all the salmon – means there is less time for toxins to accumulate. This makes it a healthier option, even though the public tends to value other species over the humble pink. On 27 August, Clark and two other chefs, Garret Schack and Rockin’ Ronnie Shewchuck, will be on a mission to change public perception by dishing up by-donation appetizers at the Pink Salmon Festival at Kits Point in Vancouver.
Those feeling extra adventurous can take a two-hour tour of English Bay in a 34-foot voyageur canoe, as part of the Rivershed Society of BC’s FraserFest.
Name: Pink Salmon Festival
Where: Vanier/Hadden Park, 1905 Ogden Avenue, Vancouver
When: Sunday, 27 August, 2017
Cost: Free, by donation salmon appetizers (all proceeds go towards wild salmon conservation in British Columbia).
Register for canoe ride here.
In 2010, Port Alberni was deemed the Ultimate Fishing Town by the World Fishing Network, and for good reason. It sits at the head of the Alberni inlet, right in the centre of Vancouver Island, and sees annual returns of hundreds of thousands of salmon, including the sought-after sockeye.
Each year, when the salmon run past Port Alberni, the town hosts a salmon festival and fishing derby. A $15,000 grand prize is on the table for the largest salmon caught during the festivities and derby ticket sales will support local salmon enhancement initiatives.
Where: Tyee Landing, Port Alberni
When: Friday, 1 September – Monday, 4 September
Cost: Free ($50 per rod for derby).
Click here for details.
Salmon festivals are not just coastal events. The Columbia Salmon Festival is held each year in Invermere, a stone’s throw away from the Alberta border. And this festival celebrates a special kind of salmon.
In 1942, when the Grand Coulee dam was constructed, it cut off the salmon run that the Ktunaxa Nation and Shuswap nations had depended on for thousands of years. Since then, the Columbia Valley has become home to kokanee, which are smaller landlocked versions of their ocean-bound cousins.
The Columbia Salmon Festival is held at the height of the kokanee run, and aims “to provide opportunities for all to learn about the past, present and future of Salmon in the Columbia River, and their importance to First Nations and everyone in the Upper Columbia Valley,” according to the Canadian Columbia River Inter-tribal Fisheries Commission.
The festival will feature a canoe brigade, a grand entry, powwow, and of course, a salmon feast.
Name: Columbia Salmon Festival
Where: James Chabot Park and Shuswap Band Indian Pavillion, BC
When: Saturday, September 9 Hosts: Ktunaxa Nation
Click here for details.
In late summer, the Syilx (Okanagan) Nation invites everyone to their territory for the Okanagan Nation Salmon Feast. People are invited to help honour the river and Sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ (Okanagan Falls). This site has been an important fishing camp, trading location, and gathering place and is considered sacred by the Syilx people.
Camping is available on first-come-first-serve basis, and meals are provided from dinner Saturday to lunch on Sunday.
Where: sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ (Okanagan Falls) Provincial Park, Okanagan Falls, BC
When: Friday, September 15 – Sunday, September 17
Click here for details.
For those who can’t make it to any of the above events, every Tuesday and Sunday the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre hosts a salmon dinner and performance. Well worth the trip.
Where: Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, 4584 Blackcomb Way, Whistler
When: Tuesdays and Sundays
Cost: Adult $65.00, Student 6-12 $25, Children under 5 free (pre-booking required)
Click here for more information.
- “Summary of Pacific Salmon Outlook Units for 2017,” Fisheries and Oceans – Government of Canada
- “Fisheries closed as Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks are down,” Vancouver Sun
- “Chef Robert Clark – at the Pink Salmon Festival 2015”
- “Commercial fishing sector braces for another bad year,” Business In Vancouver
- “Port Alberni Named WFN Ultimate Fishing Town,” World Fishing Network
- “Fishing Report – July 2017,” World Fishing Network
- Port Alberni Salmon Festival