09/14/2011 06:59 EDT | Updated 01/12/2012 02:19 EST

Conservationists fish for government support naming Pacific salmon as BC emblem

VANCOUVER - British Columbia's official mineral is jade and its official bird is the Steller's jay.

But when it comes to what many think of as its most universal symbol, the public may think the province has gone fishin'.

That's why several conservationist groups are now floating the Pacific salmon for formal designation as B.C.'s official fish.

The proposal was put on the table Wednesday as the province enters the peak of its salmon fishing season and a federal commission investigates the decline of the sockeye.

With the salmon already being wildly popular, taking the next step shouldn't make a splash, said David Marshall, executive director of the Fraser Basin Council.

"A lot of people have said to me, isn't it already the B.C. fish and what's taken us so long? So the time has come."

The council, along with the Pacific Salmon Foundation and a third non-profit called Living Rivers have passed the recommendation along to the premier, as well as the environment, forests and agriculture ministers.

The report, called "Do we make it official? Recognizing Pacific salmon as a BC emblem," features pledges of support from numerous municipalities, regional districts and First Nations groups. It also showcases many positive comments from the public.

The report says a poll conducted in October 2010 by Mustel Group found 85 per cent public approval. It also noted 93 per cent named the Pacific salmon as the province's most iconic fish.

"We now have a tree, we have a mammal, we have a bird, and we don't have a fish," Marshall said. "Culturally, socially, economically, it's important to this province."

Environment Minister Terry Lake, who recently received the report, said it's worth testing the waters.

"Just speaking for myself, it's got a lot of merit," he said.

"It's a worthwhile conversation to have with my colleagues in government, but I don't want to make any commitments at this time."

But even if the government were to legislate the salmon, including all its seven species, onto the books, the move would remain entirely symbolic.

The groups are not requesting any policy changes accompany the designation, such as adding protectionist measures, Marshall said.

Instead the hope is the formal measures would rally people around the fish, raise awareness about its value and promote sustainability programs around the creature and its watershed.

"It could be a catalyst for actions," Marshall said.

B.C. has designated six other emblems over the past 60 years, including the dogwood as the official flower and western red cedar as the official tree. The flower gained protective legislation along with its status in 1956, but it lapsed in 2002.

NDP tourism critic Spencer Chandra Herbert said his party supports the move, which is why he introduced a motion more than a year ago to make the designation -- though it has yet to sink or swim.

He suggested the government finally address the issue in its upcoming throne speech, in early October.

"If it is an official fish and it's threatened, I would think the government would have to respond in a bigger way than they have so far," he said.

"Ideally, there would be other changes for the species. But I think it would be a good first step."

Alberta has named the bull trout as its official fish. Other noteworthy if unusual provincial symbols include Charlottetown soil as P.E.I.'s official soil and needle-and-thread grass as Saskatchewan's official grass.

B.C. held consultations last year into naming an official fossil, but the designation has yet to be set in stone.