The T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation was founded in 1981 to protect B.C.’s marine ecosystems, fisheries, and ocean-dependent communities. Our strength lies in a collaborative, socially-minded, and flexible approach to environmental activism pioneered by our namesake, Tatsuro “Buck” Suzuki.
“Buck” was born on the Fraser River to a family of Japanese Canadian fishermen in 1915 during a period of widespread institutional racism and racial animosity against Japanese Canadians. Despite these challenges by the time he was in his twenties Buck was successfully working to create alliances between Japanese Canadian fishermen and all other fishermen. These efforts were cut short in 1941, when the federal government abruptly confiscated Japanese-Canadians’ property and sent them to internment camps in an overblown and discriminatory response the Pearl Harbor attacks. Buck was first sent to a camp in Kaslo (B.C.), then moved to Brantford (Ont.) until the British Army recruited him as an intelligence officer and he was deployed to investigate war crimes in India and Singapore. He returned to B.C. in 1947.
Upon arriving in Vancouver, Buck negotiated an agreement with the United Fisherman’s and Allied Workers Union (UFAWU)—the fishing industry’s main political body at the time—that guaranteed Japanese-Canadian fishermen returning to their B.C. homes equal membership to other fishermen in the union, provided that they all join the organization. It was a remarkable achievement, as Buck had to overcome remnants of pre-war racism among some union members and strong opposition from Japanese Canadian community leaders who associated the labour organization with communism.
Buck ’s activism within the union continued long after establishing this partnership and he spent the rest of his life working to protect fish habitat in B.C. until his death in 1977. This work included spearheading campaigns to prohibit the dumping of industrial waste and sewage in the Fraser River and working with Canada’s first environmental NGO, the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation, on several conservation projects.
The T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation was founded by members of the UFAWU in 1981 as an independent organization that could continue Buck’s legacy. We co-led the successful campaign against the Kemano II hydro-electric project—a proposed mega-dam that would have severely impacted salmon runs—and spearheaded coalitions calling for proper treatment of waste from pulp and paper mills, forestry, mines, and communities. We’ve called for and supported land-based solutions for finfish aquaculture; commissioned reports on plastic pollution, including one that led to the federal government’s 2019 ban on single-use plastics; and were part of the decades long successful campaign for a federal moratorium banning oil tankers from plying B.C.’s North Coast. We have also been heavily involved with marine planning initiatives and community-based coastal governance in B.C.
Our impact is much larger than our size, and we continue to work collaboratively and with flexibility to achieve a future of abundant, sustainable fisheries and healthy ecosystems that support thriving coastal communities in B.C.