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At 10 a.m. on Sept. 22, Granville Street in Vancouver turned into a river. Brightly colored cardboard salmon, bicycle floats and hundreds of people dressed in costumes flowed down the street, carrying huge silkscreen banners and flags as big as sails printed with the words "Wild Salmon Forever." People sang, beat drums and called the wild salmon home.

It was Day One of the weeklong Wild Salmon Caravan : the fourth annual 250-mile pilgrimage which follows the yearly migration of sockeye salmon up the Fraser River, from the Salish Sea near the U.S.-Canadian border to the mouth of Adams Lake in interior British Columbia. It’s known as one of the country’s most important salmon spawning grounds.

"The Wild Salmon Caravan is a celebration of the spirit of wild salmon through arts and culture," says Dawn Morrison, one of the caravan’s founders. Morrison is a member of Secwepemc Nation from the south-central part of British Columbia. Salmon is a staple food, integral to the culture and identity of many different indigenous peoples here. It’s used in traditional ceremonies and in community feasts. It is baked, roasted over an open fire, canned, smoked or dried to be eaten over the winter. "We’re calling on all the nations to help us honor this amazing species and the wealth and abundance that it has generously given us for thousands of years," Morrison says. But the caravan is not just a celebration — it’s a call to action. Although the natural salmon population cycle contains predictable dips, in the last three years, the Fraser River has seen some of the lowest numbers of salmon returns in its recorded history — "abysmal," says Mike Lapointe, chief biologist of the Pacific Salmon Commission . Scientists blame the low returns on a giant patch of warm water in the northeast Pacific Ocean called " the blob " that has affected fishing all along the Pacific Coast in the last few years.

And while 2018 was predicted to be a peak year in the Fraser River sockeye salmon’s four-year cycle — with some predictions of up to 14 million fish returning to spawn — abnormally warm ocean conditions suggest the return will be closer to 11 million, says Lapointe. "The salmon are running a marathon a day. Warmer temperatures make it much harder for them," he says.

The threat to wild salmon populations of the West Coast has been going on far longer than the blob has been around. Tens of millions of salmon ran in North America’s Western coastal rivers before the Europeans arrived. According to some estimates , the population has shrunk to 0.1 percent of that now, thanks to damming, development and pollution. While the Fraser River has a relatively stable sockeye population, it is not immune to the impacts of development and over-fishing.

Over the years, Morrison saw the downward trend and came up with the caravan as a way to bring attention to the fish’s plight in a way that would be both creative and provocative.

The kick-off parade in Vancouver brought local farmers, social justice organizations and local food system advocates together. After the parade, an afternoon event included poets, musicians, artists, academics and activists from all over the country.

The theme of this year’s caravan was mermaids – but not the Disneyland kind. In the Shuswap language of the Secwepemc Nation, the term Qelmucw etkwe means "water people." Morrison says the theme is inspired by stories from around the world that contain human-like creatures that defend water and pass between human and aquatic worlds.

"The water people symbolize transformation and change between different beings," she says. "The stories carry […]

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