This past September, Rolf Hicker, a professional photographer and local owner operator of Vancouver Island Photo Tours, posted several images on his Facebook page that showed what appeared to be emaciated grizzly bears on the shores of Knight Inlet.
Hicker confirms there were at least six bears and a possible seventh, foraging along the shoreline and it was obvious all of them were in bad health and likely suffering from malnutrition. Given the low salmon run numbers this fall, Hicker said he “wasn’t surprised by the bear’s condition.”
What did turn out to be surprising was the immediate and intense reaction from around the world.
With the story and accompanying images being carried on major networks and in newspapers throughout North America and Europe, the response was swift but divided.
As Hicker explains, “many felt, as I do, that the low salmon runs were the cause of the bear’s starvation and this worst salmon run ever was the result of fish farming.”
Commercial fishermen say this year’s salmon run has been the lowest in the past 50 years.
In an interview on CNN, Joy Thorkelson, president of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union feels climate change is a major contributor.
In the same interview, activist Alexandra Morton agrees with Hicker’s assessment, saying, “Everywhere in the world where there is salmon farming you have a decline in the wild salmon population.”
Responding to the BC government’s call to transition from open-net fish farming to land based farms, the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance feels their current practices are environmentally sustainable and that the government’s plans are, “a reckless policy, not grounded in science.”
Others feel neither climate nor fish farming are responsible and simply deny there is any kind of problem.
As a result, the online commentary was often heated, divisive and disappointing to Hicker, who had hoped the pictures would generate a constructive discussion.
“We could have turned this into such a positive thing within such a negative context,” said Hicker.
“I had posted the images because I had read the news about the worst salmon runs and wanted people to know.”
Hicker added he wanted to “educate people about what happens when these bears don’t have enough to eat.”
His hope was that what he had witnessed would encourage people to: “Turn this bad situation into a positive by encouraging everyone to support those bears, raise awareness of their plight and work towards solving the problem.”
“Government should have said… well look, our bears aren’t doing to well and let’s do something to fix that.”
However, Hicker feels, “the government has yet to respond in a meaningful way, people continue to argue and deny and in the meantime, those bears continue to suffer.”
When asked if the pictures and the coverage they received had changed him, he noted they definitely had.
“Sadly, I see people just ignoring it. I’m disappointed with everything happening locally as none of the locals were saying, ‘thanks for bringing this to our attention’. ‘Let’s not talk about it’ seems the easiest way to solve those problems. So to me, it just makes me stronger because I very clearly see it takes even more to make changes here.”
– Bill McQuarrie article