FIN IN THE NEWS: Cautious cause for celebration on the Fraser

John Bermingham, The Province

There was real cause for celebration Sunday, B.C. Rivers Day, with 34 million sockeye salmon returning to the Fraser -- the biggest numbers since 1913.

But river conservationist Mark Angelo, who founded the annual B.C. event -- now in its 30th year -- that's grown into World Rivers Day, said the huge sockeye run must be tempered by concerns for the health of the province's rivers system.

"To see this incredible return back into the Fraser, that's a real sign of hope," said Angelo. He said the water flow and temperature indicators point to a strong spawning season.

"This is one great year," said the chair of the BCIT Rivers Institute.

"We need two or three great years in a row."

Angelo said B.C. rivers are healthy, but other rivers are under pressure from pollution, dams and industry.

This year's bumper sockeye return, on top of several years of dismal returns, makes the ongoing Cohen Commission into the decline of Fraser sockeye that much more important, said New Westminster-Coquitlam and Port Moody NDP MP Fin Donnelly. "We had last year a total collapse of the sockeye salmon," said Donnelly. "This year, we've seen a tripling [in number].

"We need to continue to look at the big picture," he added. "We can focus on sockeye, but we should also look at . . . all of the fish species.

There were celebrations up and down the Fraser watershed Sunday, from Burnaby and New Westminster, to Coquitlam, Langley and Maple Ridge. There were also Rivers Day events in more than 60 countries, with millions of people taking part, said Angelo.

At the celebration at Fraser Foreshore Park in Burnaby, was Kirsten Graham, eating lunch with her daughters Emmy, 4, and Rachel, 2.

She said she tries to teach her girls about taking care of the natural world around them and expose them to "any sort of environmental awareness."

"And they just like the community events as well," Graham said.

jbermingham@theprovince.com