Decades of cuts to salmon monitoring leave B.C. scientists uncertain of fish populations
Matt Simmons, The Narwhal
February 18, 2021
For 40 years, Doug Stewart coordinated his movements with spawning salmon on B.C.’s north coast, climbing up creeks to count the fish as they returned from the ocean.
His job as a creekwalker — a contract salmon monitoring gig for Fisheries and Oceans Canada — took him places no one would think fish could reach, he told The Narwhal. One November, after wading through a frozen lake with his canoe in tow, he followed a creek up through a frozen meadow and counted coho in slow-flowing pools covered with thin ice.
“It was something that’ll stick in my head forever. Those are the kinds of things that keep drawing you back.”
When Stewart reluctantly retired in 2016, no one took over for him, leaving an area of about 17,000 square kilometres to the last remaining creekwalker in the region. “Even when there was two of us, we still weren’t doing the job properly,” he said.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been hiring creekwalkers to count salmon returning to natal streams along the Pacific coast since 1940. These creekwalkers provide essential information about populations, which is used to inform fisheries management decisions, including how many salmon can be caught for commercial or recreational purposes.
However, decades of budget cuts have greatly reduced the number of creekwalkers and the number of streams being monitored, while wild salmon populations have been declining. Critics say the data collected by creekwalkers is needed to make good fisheries management decisions.
“From a conservation perspective, we need this information to assess the health of populations,” Michael Price, a salmon researcher at Simon Fraser University, told The Narwhal in an interview. “We can’t accurately make fisheries decisions when we don’t know how many fish are coming back.”
PacificWild, a conservation organization focused on the Great Bear Rainforest, recently launched a campaign to call attention to the declining number of creekwalkers on the north and central coast and what that means for salmon.
In 1949, there were 150 creekwalkers monitoring the north coast; by the late 1970s there were 40 and now there are just two, according to research by the organization. PacificWild has also found that only 215 of 2,500 spawning streams on the central and north coast are being counted. That’s about a 70 per cent decrease since the 1980s, when around 1,500 of those streams were monitored.
PacificWild does not have data on how many creekwalkers are monitoring streams on the south coast nor how many streams there are being monitored.
According to research by Price and others, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has continually cut funding for monitoring since the 1980s. When Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced a wild salmon policy in 2005, which prioritized the conservation of Pacific salmon and acknowledged a need to preserve biological diversity, conservation scientists expected the department would increase monitoring efforts.
“That was Objective 1: to identify populations that we need to protect in perpetuity,” Price said. Yet, the decline continued.
In the absence of data collected by creekwalkers, Fisheries and Oceans Canada estimates B.C. salmon populations by counting the fish at just a few sites in larger systems, doing aerial surveys and tagging fish at downstream locations and creating a population model based on how many show up farther inland.
But according to Price, the accuracy of those estimates can be off by as much as 50 per cent and it’s impossible to know what’s happening to individual populations without monitoring streams.
Price added that without “boots on the ground,” the data lacks critical context.
“If we’re just flying over and looking at the spawning reach of a system, and not literally walking up the entire system, you don’t know if there are blockages in the system, or disease events, or pre-spawn mortality because the water temperatures were high, or big predation years.”
Price said creekwalkers carry irreplaceable knowledge of the spawning sites they visit year after year. This informs a deeper understanding of anomalies and fluctuations in salmon returns, which in turn informs fisheries management.
For example, Stewart said there was an unexpected large early return of pink salmon to the glacial-fed freshwater systems in the region last year. Fisheries and Oceans Canada decided to open the commercial fisheries, but because the decision was not informed by creekwalkers’ knowledge, it resulted in an error that left many creeks without enough fish to sustain the populations.
“Without the patrolmen out there, the department wasn’t able to realize that this wasn’t going to be a continuous thing through all the systems,” he said. “They actually overfished because they didn’t realize that the secondary [returns], what we call the fall pinks, weren’t coming. You’ve got to have people in the field to see so that you can actually make good management decisions.”
Fisheries and Oceans Canada declined an interview request and was unable to provide any information.
Price gave credit to Fisheries and Oceans Canada for erring on the side of caution by dramatically limiting the commercial and sport fisheries over the past few years, but added that increasing data could only have a positive impact.
“If we had more information, I would like to believe that we would make more informed decisions,” he said. “But right now, we are flying blind.”
When Stewart retired, the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation started counting spawning salmon in around 15 of the 150 streams in his former monitoring area. They receive a small amount of funding from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and share their data with the department.
Kitasoo/Xai’xais fisheries director Larry Greba said they’re trying to cover a handful of streams that are representative of other streams.
“In the absence of that information, you have no idea what’s going on with stocks,” he said. “Unfortunately, in some cases they seem to be going — I hate to use the word — extinct. We’ve got a number of systems in the area that have just gone to next to nothing.”
But Greba said he’d like to see Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan allocate more resources for Indigenous monitoring programs and said her recent mandate letter from the prime minister, which calls for the development of a Pacific salmon strategy, offers a glimmer of hope.
Other coastal nations, including the Heiltsuk and Gitga’at, have similarly started monitoring streams in the absence of Fisheries and Oceans Canada programs. Fraser Los, communications coordinator for the Coastal Stewardship Network, told The Narwhal in an email that efforts are underway to standardize the methods of data collection and make sure they’re compatible with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Los said Coastal First Nations are working on digitizing data collection as part of a regional monitoring system.
Price agreed that coordinating monitoring methods is key and added that increasing our knowledge of how many fish are out there doesn’t have to be a huge investment.
“It’s not rocket science. It just takes those adventurous individuals that would like to tramp up streams and count fish.”
The federal and provincial governments have earmarked more than $140 million for salmon conservation programs through the British Columbia Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund, including some monitoring programs.
B.C. Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Aquaculture Fin Donnelly said the province is committed to working with the federal government and First Nations.
“I think there’s a recognition that we have to do things differently,” he said. “We have to be innovative, we have to work together and collaborate, and we need action now.”
He said the province has started to fund Indigenous guardian programs to help address the problem, citing a $7.3 million investment in the Broughton archipelago, where Minister Jordan recently decided to phase out open-net pen salmon farms by 2022. He said the funding includes support for monitoring programs.
Biologist Alexandra Morton suggested creating a new senior position within Fisheries and Oceans Canada to coordinate this collaboration.
“We need a director of wild salmon.”
While many populations are on the brink of extinction, Morton said salmon can survive given the chance. “The ocean and the rivers can still make fish. People should not give up.”
Stewart saw what was at stake last summer while anchored with his family in a “gin-clear” river where he used to see around 60,000 chum and 60,000 pink salmon returning every year. He estimated only about 500 chum returned last year.
“We’re watching this sow grizzly with two cubs, and there’s no pinks available yet so she’s hunting chums. And I mean she’s stalking them.”
He chuckled and said she was pretty good at it, but added there were probably another dozen grizzlies in the area all trying to catch the fish.
“All of a sudden you don’t have enough chum in that system to supply the bears and to supply the future stock of chums,” he said. “The bears are getting what they can get and you’re hoping like hell [the fish] at least got a few eggs into the gravel before they became bear protein.”
How global warming is affecting B.C. salmon
(A recap of DFO’s annual State of the Salmon assessment) Watershed Watch Salmon Society
February 11, 2021
Many factors contribute to the decline of wild salmon in B.C. Habitat destruction, harvest, and bad aquaculture practices are all negative impacts, but the effect global warming has on salmon populations will be widespread, long-lasting and irreversible without urgent action.
DFO recently released a preliminary report on predicted salmon returns for 2021. You can read a summary of the report by fisheries expert Greg Taylor here, but, in general, many salmon runs across the province have been in decline and 2021 isn’t expected to be any different. But, unprecedented environmental conditions are making predictions of salmon returns in recent years more difficult to make.
Every year, DFO’s State of the Salmon Program collects research on environmental changes from a variety of sources to better understand and inform salmon return predictions for the following year. They recently presented on the current environmental conditions and the implications for wild salmon in 2021.
Read a recap of the presentation below.
Increasing global temperatures and changes in precipitation = warmer waterways
Research shows global air temperatures are trending hotter than expected in recent decades. Five of the last six years were the hottest on record. The situation gets more dire as you move closer to the north pole, as temperatures are increasing more rapidly than they are at the equator. Warmer air temperatures globally lead to warmer water temperatures locally and for species, including salmon, that thrive in colder waters, this is very harmful.
In B.C., global warming is contributing to smaller snowpacks. A smaller than average snowpack means lower than average flow in rivers and streams and in turn, higher water temperatures.
B.C. is also experiencing drier summers, with less precipitation, leading to a similar bad outcome for salmon; less flow and water that gets warmer, faster.
While temperatures above 25 degrees will kill salmon, temperatures above 18 degrees alter the behaviour of adult salmon, making it harder for them to swim, escape predators and dig their nests. Warm waters also impair salmons’ immune systems, making it harder for them to survive the effects of viruses and other pathogens.
In some cases, lack of precipitation can also result in some sections of streams or rivers drying up, leaving fish stranded in small pools of water and unable to migrate.
Record-setting forest fires are degrading spawning habitat
2017 and 2018 were both record-setting forest fire years in the province. Where these fires occur, the lack of tree cover and changes to soil results in increased runoff, slope instability, and erosion, all contributing to more sediment entering streams. This negatively affects salmon spawning habitat by covering spawning gravels and smothering redds (salmon nests).
Forest fires also destroy riparian vegetation. Without riparian vegetation to shade waterways, stream temperatures increase even more and further stress wild salmon.
More landslides, more disconnected habitat
Global warming is also thought to be increasing the occurrence of landslides. This has the potential to block access for salmon to their spawning grounds and can have a huge impact on specific runs.
Ocean conditions: the good, the bad, and the blob
Things aren’t just changing for salmon in their freshwater environments; marine conditions are also changing. The bad news? Oceans are absorbing much of the excess heat resulting from a warming climate. Even with intervention to address climate change, it will take some time for these expansive water bodies to drop in temperature. Increased ocean temperatures are thought to reduce overall ocean productivity and change the availability of different zooplankton, a primary food source for salmon. Larger, fattier zooplankton are being replaced by smaller, less nutritious species, and fewer of them, meaning there is less, and lower quality food for salmon in the ocean. Underfed and smaller fish don’t have the same energy stores to make the trip back to their spawning grounds. At the same time, wild salmon are having to compete with growing numbers of hatchery fish for these dwindling food supplies.
The west coast has also been home to “the blob” off and on since 2013. The blob is a patch of ocean stretching from California to Alaska with water temperatures even higher than the rest of the (warming) Pacific. The good news is that the recent presence of La Niňa, a period of cooler water temperatures in the south, will likely help to mitigate the warmer waters of the blob, and also increase precipitation locally, which will be beneficial to salmon in their freshwater habitat as well.
What’s our take-away?
Clearly, a changing climate is making freshwater and marine habitat less hospitable to wild salmon. Though they are resilient, how much closer to the brink can we push them before there is no coming back? While climate change is a global issue, we need our governments to step up and invest in salmon-friendly renewable energy and reduce rather than expand our production and use of harmful fossil fuels like oil and fracked gas. We need to swiftly tackle the threats to salmon that we have immediate control over. That means protecting, restoring and reconnecting key habitats (an investment that will also create jobs and support local economies), getting salmon farms out of the water, safer approaches to fishing and hatchery production, and better monitoring so we can understand the current status of different salmon populations.
DFO is making new fishing rules. Will they work?
National Observer by Marc Fawcett-Atkinson | January 29th 2021
Only 293,000 sockeye salmon returned to the Fraser River last year; an uncomfortable echo of the Newfoundland cod collapse. New federal rules aim to prevent similar disasters. Photo by Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Dept. of Interior
In 1992, Canadians watched in horror as Newfoundland’s once-thriving cod stocks collapsed, leaving thousands without jobs and ecosystems transformed.
Yet despite the horror, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has not been legally required to rebuild depleted fish stocks even as others, including the iconic salmon runs in B.C., have hit historic lows. That soon might change.
Earlier this month, the federal government proposed a suite of changes to Canada’s fishing regulations that will force DFO to bring depleted commercial fish stocks back to abundant levels. It’s a move advocates say is a step in the right direction, but still might not be enough to restore oceanic abundance.
“We’ve seen big declines in our fish and marine fisheries in the last 50 years … we’re clearly not on the right trajectory, which means the status quo is not working,” said Josh Laughren, executive director of Oceana Canada. “The (proposed) regulations as done now, in our view … will not succeed in changing the status quo and getting us on a path to rebuilding our fish stocks.”
The proposed rules codify pre-existing internal DFO policies and require the ministry to assess the health of key fish populations in “batches” — salmon, rockfish and cod are in the first batch of 30 — to figure out why their populations have declined (or could decline) and lay out a plan to bring the stocks back to healthy levels. If the ministry doesn’t comply or opens a threatened fishery, it could be sued. Similar, but more stringent, regulations have been successfully implemented in other jurisdictions with major fisheries, like the U.S. and the EU.
The problem, Laughren said, is the rules lack key details: the rebuilding targets are too low, there’s no strict timeline to rebuild individual stocks, and the time between listing each batch of fish stocks is too long. Taken together, those issues could give the ministry room to avoid implementing policies leading to long-term health for fish stocks and fisheries, he said — at the cost of immediate social, economic, and political pain.
“If I were a fisherman, I would be in the long-term glad that these (rules) will be in place, because there’s no fishing communities if we have no fish,” said Susanna Fuller, vice-president of operations and projects at Oceans North. In the short term, however, closing vulnerable fisheries is a “hard decision” DFO has been too reluctant to make, she said.
More stringent rules actually make it easier for the ministry to tackle those difficult decisions, she said, because they lay out a very clear decision-making process. That makes it harder for the fisheries minister to allow fishing of at-risk stocks under pressure from industry and fishing communities concerned about their future.
More than 77,000 people work in the fisheries across Canada, according to DFO. In B.C. alone, the industry was worth about $760 million in 2018, says the provincial agriculture ministry.
“My hope is that the fisheries’ management system can be flexible and dynamic enough to help move fish harvesters to other species as they become more abundant,” Fuller said, helping ease the negative social and economic impacts of closed fisheries.
“Stronger regulations (can) actually give us the tools to rebuild fisheries and reduce pain on fishing communities,” she said.
Earlier this month, the federal government proposed changes to Canada’s fishing regulations to bring depleted commercial fish stocks back to abundant levels. It’s a move advocates say is a step in the right direction, but not enough.
Our Amazing Community
by Gayle Neilson, Coast Reporter, Sunshine Coast, BC
January 28, 2021
“Streamkeeper co-ordinator Shirley Samples reported some good news about the 2020 salmon spawning season in her New Year’s email. The group has been tracking salmon for the past two years in four creeks: Chaster Creek, Roberts Creek, Langdale Creek and Malcolm Creek. Shirley said, “The numbers increased substantially in Roberts Creek and Chaster Creek! Also, the chum salmon that did return were notably large in size. The number of coho returns were less than 2019; we hope that number will increase as this species is important to our whole ecosystem but especially for southern resident orcas that depend on them.” She thanked all the streamkeepers for their volunteer efforts. More info at https://sunshinecoaststreamkeepers.com/ ” – Coast Reporter
Watch your step! Salmon eggs may be underfoot
Posted January 14, 2021
Between fall and spring, spawning grounds are full of salmon redds, gravel nests dug by spawning females, containing thousands of eggs, (which develop into alevins). The redd protects eggs and alevins from predators and from washing away in heavy stream flows, but being well hidden on the ground makes them susceptible to unwitting trampling by people, pets and livestock.
How bad is it if you step on a redd and how can you avoid it?
Limited data has been collected on the impact of human activity on salmon redds. However, studies on trout redds show that trampling can cause mortality rates between 43 – 96 per cent. A similar rate applied to wild salmon redds could be disastrous, especially for endangered populations.
Though trampling of redds isn’t a large cause of the decline of wild salmon, it is one of the few threats that we can easily remedy with a bit of awareness.
Here are some tips for identifying and avoiding salmon redds.
Be especially vigilant for salmon redds between September and March in most locations in B.C.
Do you see adult salmon?
If you visit a waterway and adult salmon are present, it is likely a spawning stream. Keep out of the river and keep pets on leashes to prevent damage to redds.
Know where redds are found in a stream
- Pools vs. riffles. Pools occur where stream depth increases and flow decreases. Riffles are shallower sections of the waterway where the water moves more quickly. Riffles are preferred locations for salmon redds as the increased flow of water helps keep the redd well-oxygenated for baby salmon.
- Substrate. Salmon redds are made in gravel 15- 35 mm in diameter (pea to peach pit size). It needs to be small enough for the females to be able to move it and create their nest, but large enough that it doesn’t smother the eggs by getting too densely packed.
- Location. Be more vigilant when walking in or through the middle of a stream. Salmon often spawn close to the centre of streams, not close to the banks.
- Water depth. Most salmon spawn in relatively shallow water of a few feet or less.
What does a redd look like?
- Look for clean gravel. The act of creating a redd involves the female salmon disturbing gravel, which makes the circular area of about 1-2 m in diameter that has cleaner looking gravel than the surrounding area.
- Look for a combination of a mound and a depression in the gravel. The mound, where the eggs are located, will be downstream of the depression.
Posted January 14, 2021
Potential designation of Howe Sound as UNESCO biosphere reserve expected in 2021
by Carlito Pablo on January 12th, 2021
- The Howe Sound, a deep fjord extending from West Vancouver to Squamish, is home to rare glass sponge reefs.SHUTTERSTOCK
Later this year, Canada may get its 19th UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve.
If all goes well, that recognition will go to a region in the Howe Sound or Átl’ka7tsem in Indigenous language.
The Howe Sound is a deep fjord extending from West Vancouver to Squamish.
It is home to glass sponge reefs, a rare kind found only along the west coast of Canada and the U.S.
The Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society has spearheaded the initiative to designate 218,723 hectares in the area as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
According to a summary by the organization, the proposed reserve is composed of 84 percent terrestrial area, and 16 percent marine environments of the Howe Sound.
Online, UNESCO or the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization explains that there are currently 714 biosphere reserves around the world.
These are “learning places for sustainable development”, and found in 129 countries.
At present, Canada has 18 UNESCO biosphere reserves.
“They are sites for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems, including conflict prevention and management of biodiversity,” UNESCO explains.
Moreover, “They are places that provide local solutions to global challenges. Biosphere reserves include terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems. Each site promotes solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use.”
Biosphere reserves are nominated by national governments. These reserves remain under the jurisdiction of the countries where they are located.
An information material by the Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society notes that in 2000, Clayoquot Sound and Mt. Arrowsmith on Vancouver Island were designated biosphere regions.
The climate action committee of Metro Vancouver is scheduled to receive on Friday (January 15) an update about the potential designation of Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
A summary of the presentation by Ruth Simons of the Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society notes that an international advisory committee will review the submission by the government of Canada.
The recommendations from the review panel are expected to be known in either April or May.
A formal UNESCO designation could be announced in the in the fall or winter.
The summary also cites the global significance of Howe Sound’s glass sponge reefs.
“Scientists have likened the discovery of glass sponge reefs in B.C. to discovering a herd of dinosaurs on land,” the document states.
These reefs provide habitat for 84-plus species of fish and invertebrates.
“They provide essential services for Howe Sound by filtering 17+ billion litres (6,800 Olympic swimming pools) of water every day,” the summary states.
It notes that the reefs would take “just two hours to pump the equivalent of Metro Vancouver’s daily wastewater volume and they remove 436 kg of total organic carbon from the water each day”. Follow Carlito Pablo on Twitter at @carlitopablo
Forage Fish in the Salish Sea
Pacific Sand Lance, Surf Smelt, Pacific Herring, and Northern Anchovy
Strait of Georgia Data Centre
Posted on January 8, 2021
Forage fish are a small schooling fish that play a crucial role in the marine food web, directly feeding many marine animals including orcas, birds, and salmon. Their role as prey underpins the health of our ocean ecosystems and their importance to the survival of salmon populations in the Salish Sea.¹
Forage fish are also integral to indigenous communities. The Coast Salish people depend on salmon not only as a food source, but salmon are deeply embedded in their culture, identity, wealth and trade.
Additionally, forage fish are also a direct food source for many indigenous communities.² For example, several Northwest Coast groups traditionally collect herring spawn accumulated on marine vegetation, providing a snack of dried herring eggs on kelp.³ As forage fish face threats, so too will the indigenous communities whose traditional knowledge has taught co-existence with these species for centuries.
Types of Forage Fish
- Are one of the most abundant fish in BC’s coastal waters.
- Are a cornerstone of the marine food web and support a diversity of marine predators.⁴
- Have sustained coastal First Nations communities for many thousands of years.
- Are crucial prey of Chinook salmon.
- Spawn en masse on marine vegetation such as eelgrass and kelp.
- Spawn throughout the year with peak activity from February to April.
- Adults have been spotted following warm years when larval recruitment is likely more successful.⁵
- Are a forage fish that have recently been increasing in abundance in the Salish Sea.⁵ Continued warming of the Salish Sea may lead to greater abundance and persistence of anchovy, with potentially important consequences for the ecosystem as a whole.
- Are a forage fish that grow to be 20–25 cm long, and feed on small organisms.⁶
- Spawn on gravel and sand beaches near the high tide line, where overhanging vegetation protects the eggs from the summer sun.⁶
- Support recreational and commercial fisheries in B.C.
Pacific Sand Lance
- Are a small but crucial forage fish due to their role as forage for marine fish, birds, and mammals.⁶
- Adults are up to 20cm long, slightly smaller than Surf smelt.⁶
- Are an important food source for Chinook salmon.
- Spawn on sandy intertidal beaches, much like Surf smelt.
Interactive map of forage fish spawning habitat in the Strait of Georgia
(Data for Northern Anchovy spawn currently unavailable)
Even small alterations to forage fish spawning habitat can lead to considerable change over time. Forage fish spawning beaches are undergoing a coastal squeeze, where they experience both the impacts of shoreline development on land and climatic conditions from the sea.⁷ There are a number of factors reducing the quantity and quality of beach habitat for forage fish spawning.
- Will affect the survival of forage fish as rising sea levels increase efforts to protect shorelines, resulting in increased loss of beach habitat.³
- Is causing increased sea surface temperatures and ocean acidity which will likely affect forage fish larval survival.⁵
- Can also reduce availability of zooplankton and phytoplankton which are prey for forage fish.
- Near spawning grounds can also pose as a threat to forage fish populations.
- Through installation of docks can block sunlight for nearshore environments.
- Such as construction, log storage, and decreases in water quality, especially as a result of oil spills, can degrade or destroy this important habitat as well.⁵
Hardening of the foreshore
- Is the largest threat as these species rely on healthy shorelines for survival.
- Can impact beach sediment drift which can lead to sediment loss and degrading spawning habitat quality.¹
- Can also limit sediment exchange in the shallow subtidal where sand lance are known to burrow.³
Disease and Parasitism
- Also impact forage fish, specifically Pacific Herring. Viral haemorrhagic septicaemia virus IVa (VHSV-IVa) is a deadly disease that increases mortality of Pacific Herring. Herring and other forage species are exceptionally susceptible to VHSV and are considered to be natural reservoir hosts for the virus.⁸
- Parasites in the form of sea lice (C. clemensi) also infest herring. They can influence recruitment and population growth via direct mortality, and sub-lethal effects. Herring may serve as a natural reservoir host population for C. clemensi, exposing this parasite to the juvenile salmon that feed on them.⁹
- Is also a threat to forage fish as they are increasingly targeted directly by humans for fish meal or other purposes.
- Played a large part in BC’s herring population collapse of the 1960’s.⁴
- Can put pressure on local stocks, changing population structure and recruitment success of populations.
- Can be managed. Commercial fisheries are not the largest threat to forage fish when operated sustainably.
Protecting coastal habitats for forage fish helps ensure that they can continue to spawn, and ensures that the vital role they play in the food chain is not interrupted. Determining which beaches are integral spawning habitat has been the focus of a network of researchers and citizen scientists around the Salish Sea.
Research, Restoration & Monitoring
Forage Fish Spawning Beach Monitoring Network
In a multi-organizational effort, scientists and volunteer citizen scientists are working to reduce the knowledge gapregarding when and where forage fish species spawn. The success of these projects hinge on these citizen scientists, community members who are interested in contributing to scientific research, in order to simultaneously cover a greater geographic extent.
Monitoring teams work to identify active forage fish spawning sites through the collection and identification of suitable sediment for forage fish embryos (Pacific sand lance and/or surf smelt), from beaches with known favorable habitat characteristics.⁶
Beach spawning surveys for forage fish embryos will provide the data necessary to identify crucial spawning beaches that are at risk, thus guiding advocation for improved regulatory protections.
Watch the video by Project Watershed Society to learn more about the forage fish monitoring process.
Click here to view a map that visualizes the results of efforts to monitor forage fish spawning habitat in the Strait of Georgia. With thousands of surveys conducted, experts are forming a picture of which beaches are vital to Pacific sand lance and Surf smelt.
Coho and Chinook Adult Diet Program
Forage fish are also being monitored in alternate ways. The Coho and Chinook Adult Diet Program coordinated by the University of Victoria (UVic), aims to use stomachs of adult Coho and Chinook to better understand changes in marine ecosystems. Looking at what the salmon are eating and how this changes in time and space, allows us to understand fluctuations in populations of their prey, such as herring or other forage fish.
The program involves recreational anglers as citizen scientists to collect data year-round throughout the Salish Sea. These volunteers collect stomachs of adult fish which are then processed by students and staff at UVic.
The results so far indicate that Pacific herring are by far the most important prey for both Chinook and Coho, providing a food source year-round. Another finding observed a recent surge in Northern anchovypopulations in the Southern Strait, with anchovies comprising up to 30 per cent of the adult salmon diet in areas of abundance. Learn more about the project here or via their Facebook page.
How Can We Protect Forage Fish Spawning Habitat?
To better understand the jurisdictional landscape around the foreshore, WWF-Canada requested the services of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre to help untangle the jurisdictional complexity of the foreshore, and to determine which levels of government are best positioned to change policies to better protect forage fish spawning habitat. The Environmental Law Centre’s Report recommended the need for a new provincial act, titled the Shoreline Protection Act, to protect beach spawning habitat.
WWF-Canada is collaborating with stakeholders and partners to advocate for better provincial coastal strategies and law reform. The data collected by the Forage Fish Monitoring Network will also identify those beaches that have been degraded from human activities (e.g. sea walls) that likely require restoration opportunities, such as beach nourishment or shoreline restoration.
Value of citizen science
The research being done on forage fish is imperative to the ecosystem as a whole. These projects and citizen scientists are filling knowledge and data gaps of forage fish abundance, spawning locations and timing. By hosting these data in the Pacific Salmon Foundation’s database (Strait of Georgia Data Centre) they will be accessible freely to any parties at all times.
The data acquired through these projects can be used to make educated decisions for protection of spawning habitats and stocks. This includes potential management modifications to beaches which could reduce threats to forage fish spawning habitat.
December 18, 2020
Discovery Islands salmon farms to be phased out of existence over next 18 months
Great news for the health of our salmon stocks!
Decision made in consultation with local First Nations, minister says
Karin Larsen · CBC News · Posted: Dec 17, 2020
The controversial open-net salmon farms in the Discovery Islands near Campbell River, B.C., will be phased out over the next 18 months.
In making the announcement, Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan said all 19 farms have to be free of fish by June 30, 2022, when their renewed 18-month licences expire, and that no new fish can be brought in.
Jordan said the decision was difficult but reflects the consultations she had with seven First Nations: the Homalco, Klahoose, K’ómoks, Kwaikah, Tla’amin, We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum.
“We heard overwhelmingly from First Nations in the area that they do not want these fish farms there,” she said. “They feel that they should have a say in their territorial waters, and I absolutely agree with them.”
Chief Darren Blaney of the Homalco First Nation said he was pleased with the outcome, noting the cultural importance and significance of salmon to his nation.
“[Wild, local] stocks have been declining over the years,” Blaney said. “Salmon are pretty resilient. I think if we give them an opportunity, they will start to rebuild.”
For years, critics of the farms have said they are contributing to the collapse of wild Fraser River salmon stocks because sea lice and other pathogens transfer from the farms to migrating juvenile wild salmon as they swim through the narrow channels to get to the ocean.
Bob Chamberlin, chair of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance, said his group was also pleased with the decision.
“People have become aware, not only of the critical state of wild salmon in British Columbia, but what threat the fish farms operations, as they currently are, pose to wild salmon runs,” he said.
The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association says the decision puts salmon farming in B.C. and across Canada at risk.
“This comes at a bad time, during a pandemic when local food supply and good local jobs have never been more important,” the group said in a statement.
“We have just received this decision, and will be taking some time to consider it and speak with the numerous companies and communities involved in salmon farming in the province before commenting further.”
In September, 101 B.C. First Nations and their supporters called for the removal of the Discovery Islands salmon farms, asking they be moved to land-based closed-containment systems.
One week later, Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientists said the current farms were “minimal risk” to Fraser River salmon based on nine separate peer-reviewed risk assessments. Sea lice was not considered in the studies.
Jordan said today’s decision does not mean fish farms elsewhere will necessarily face the same fate.
“Discovery Islands is one area, it’s not an indicator of how everything is going to go,” she said.
She said the 18-month period allows for the three million farm salmon in the pens to grow to harvestable size.
She expects 80 per cent of the fish will be gone by April 2021, in time for the start of the next Fraser River out-migration period.
The majority of the 19 Discovery Islands salmon farms are owned by three companies: Mowi Canada West, Cermaq Canada Ltd. and Grieg Seafoods Ltd.
Currently, nine of the 19 farms are fallow with no fish in their pens.
Fraser River salmon returns are at a historic low this year with only 270,000 expected.
Posted October 15, 2020
It is important to keep the health of our salmon in the forefront of the politicians. Please see article written by Watershed Watch: https://watershedwatch.ca/
“We’ve compiled some questions you can ask BY EMAIL OR AT TOWN HALL MEETINGS:
Remember to be respectful and brief, but make sure they answer your questions. Bring your questions on paper in case you need to leave them with a candidate for follow-up. You may want to record the answers to your questions so you can hold your future representative to account!
Preamble: Introduce yourself briefly and say something about the importance of wild salmon and clean water to you and your family. State your concern about the massive declines we are seeing.
Some questions you can ask:
RESTORING HABITAT is critical to rebuilding struggling wild salmon runs and helping them adapt to climate change. Thousands of kilometres of salmon habitat are needlessly blocked by old culverts and obsolete flood control structures around B.C. If elected, will your government commit to significantly increasing salmon habitats by funding and implementing proven fish-friendly solutions for flood control and fish passage? And will you also commit to creating a long-term Watershed Security Fund to protect and restore our watersheds?
SALMON FARMS spread harmful viruses and parasites to young wild salmon and British Columbians want them gone. The province and First Nations are making historic progress by removing 17 salmon farms from the Broughton Archipelago but it’s business as usual everywhere else, including the Discovery Islands where farms were supposed to be removed this year. The federal government committed to working with the province to transition B.C. salmon farms to closed-containment facilities where they can’t harm wild salmon, but they’re dragging their heels and ignoring evidence of harm. These farms require provincial licenses to operate. If elected, would you immediately cancel the leases for salmon farms in the Discovery Islands and give notice to all the other salmon farms that their leases will terminate no later than the federal government’s transition date of 2025?
CLEAN, ABUNDANT WATER is the lifeblood of our province and good resource development should never degrade our watersheds—the source of our freshwater. B.C.’s new Water Sustainability Act isn’t being properly implemented and our watersheds are getting trashed. We need our provincial government to get tough on water wasters and polluters, with stronger rules and better enforcement. If elected, will you commit to fully implementing and enforcing the Water Sustainability Act and the Drinking Water Protection Act? And will you also commit to hiring an independent Chief Watershed Security Officer with the resources, powers, and staff to enforce the regulations that keep our rivers and salmon safe?
REBUILDING WILD SALMON runs has never been more important. Dozens of wild salmon populations across our province are endangered or threatened, including Fraser River steelhead. Most salmon species are federally managed, but steelhead are a provincial responsibility. The current provincial government supported the federal decision last year to not list two endangered Fraser steelhead populations under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. They also promised to introduce a B.C. species-at-risk law, which never materialized. If elected, will you support the rebuilding of B.C.’s endangered salmon runs under Canada’s Species at Risk Act and commit to creating a strong B.C. species-at-risk law to rebuild provincially managed species like wild steelhead?
FISHING is a cornerstone of B.C. life. It’s essential to First Nations and puts healthy, wild food on the tables of families across our province. B.C.’s provincial governments have a dark history of supporting fishing practices that contribute to the decline of wild salmon, and promoting artificial hatcheries rather than fixing the root causes. Large-scale hatchery production endangers the survival of wild salmon. We need our provincial government to embrace modern sustainable fishing practices that allow for the harvest of healthy, abundant wild salmon runs while leaving endangered stocks to recover. If elected, will you support a transition to modern selective fishing methods that reduce the catch of endangered fish, without relying on hatcheries? And will you support stronger enforcement and independent monitoring of salmon fisheries?
These suggested questions are based on the work we are doing at Watershed Watch. If you have other good questions to ask your candidates, go for it! Stay strong, be safe, and thank you for standing up for wild salmon.” – WATERSHEDWATCH.CA
January 23, 2020
Commercial salmon sector braces for another tough year on coast by Carla Wilson / Times Colonist
Richmond fishermen Roy Jantunen, left, and Doug Suto get their gear ready for the opening of the sockeye salmon fishery on the Fraser River in Richmond on Aug. 3, 2018.Photograph By RICHARD LAM, PNG
B.C. commercial salmon fishermen are waiting for pre-season forecasts due next month after 2019 delivered the lowest returns on record for prized Fraser River sockeye.
Last year also brought in sweeping fishing restrictions for Fraser River chinook because of fears for their survival and for the endangered southern resident killer whales, which depend on that species as their main source of food.
As well, in June, massive chunks of rock sheared off a cliff at Big Bar, crashed into the Fraser River and blocked spawning salmon. That led to a rescue operation to transport as many fish around the barricade as possible.
Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan said last week that construction is starting soon to clear the river while water levels are low.
“This is a very difficult time for the resource and for those who depend and rely upon the resource,” Dane Chauvel, chairman of the B.C. Salmon Marketing Council, said Monday.
The council represents fishermen and related industries in the wild salmon sector.
“There’s not a lot to be optimistic about in the near-term,” said Chauvel.
This is not the time to despair, he said. “It’s the time to get together and figure this out and do what we can to recover.”
Chauvel is encouraged about the longer term, noting, for example, that Fisheries and Oceans is staging a meeting on Friday in Vancouver of all sectors working on the recovery of south-coast chinook.
Everyone is working collaboratively to come up with solutions, he said.
But between now and any recovery, there will be lean periods and there’s no reason to expect bumper runs in 2020, said Chauvel, who is a troller fisherman on the coast.
It’s too early to know for sure, but after last year, which Chauvel described as horrible, “everybody’s kind of hunkered down anticipating 2020 may be another year very much like the last.”
The near-term is going to be difficult for coastal communities depending on fisheries.
This needs to be explored with the fisheries minister, Chauvel said. “What are you going to do to support the fishermen, the communities and the infrastructure that depend upon the fisheries while we are working a recovery plan?”
If fisheries infrastructure disappears, it will be difficult to bring it and its related expertise back, Chauvel said.
“I think that’s the big issue right now.”
There were just 485,900 sockeye returning to the Fraser River year last year — down from the pre-season forecast of 4,795,900, said Fiona Martens, who is chief of fisheries management programs for the Pacific Salmon Commission.
That body is a joint Canada-U.S. organization charged with implementing the Pacific Salmon Treaty.
Last year’s Fraser River sockeye returns were the lowest since estimates began in 1893, she said. A preliminary forecast for this year’s Fraser River sockeye will be available in late February, Martens said.
As for other B.C. salmon runs, preliminary reports through Fisheries and Oceans Canada are not yet available.
Forecasts are normally finalized for the start of consultations for the integrated fisheries management plans, usually in early February, said a Fisheries and Oceans official.
On a more positive note, Fraser River pink salmon did better than expected, with a run size of 8,858,200 last season, beating the pre-season forecast of 5,018,600.
Posted August 25, 2019
‘They’re flat broke’: Salmon fishermen demand disaster relief for failed season
Union president argues low salmon returns a climate change impact like forest fires, flood, tornadoes
CBC News by Roshini Nair· Aug 21, 2019
With some of this year’s salmon runs projected to be the lowest on record, West Coast salmon fishermen are demanding disaster relief from the federal and provincial governments.
The Pacific Salmon Commission is forecasting a total return of only 447,000 sockeye salmon to the Fraser, one of the world’s richest salmon rivers, this year.
“This is the lowest run size ever estimated since estimates began in 1893, and lower than the previous record for lowest run size of 858,000 observed in 2016,” its report read.
Just nine years ago, in 2010, the forecasted return of sockeye salmon to the Fraser River was 34.5 million.
The United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union says those with salmon-only licences have been devastated.
Union president Joy Thorkelson says the season has been a total failure across all the major salmon-producing regions in the province: the Fraser, the Skeena, and the Central Coast.
“Mother Nature is very variable and some years stocks will come back in large numbers and other years they won’t. But this is the first year that I can remember — and I’ve been around for a long, long time now — where we’ve had a failure in every area of the B.C. coast.”
She says fishermen — especially those with salmon-only licences — are devastated.
“They’re flat broke,” she said.
“Many of them are in debt because they got the boat and gear ready for the season and they [invested] quite heavily in doing that. And then they put fuel in their boats and went to the fishing grounds and then caught nothing.”
On behalf of these fisherman, Thorkelson has put forward a letter asking the provincial and federal governments for climate change disaster assistance.
“This is a climate change impact just the same as if you were in an area that was burned by forest fires or an area that was flooded out or hailed out or tornadoed out,” she said.
Thorkelson said the fishermen are hoping for short-term relief, but acknowledges that a more long-term plan needs to be developed.
“How are we going to have commercial fishermen and shoreworkers that can hang on to remaining in that industry? How can we have processors who are able to make it from one year to the next and be profitable?”
Jocelyn Lubczuk, the press secretary for Minister Jonathan Wilkinson of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, told CBC News that she “understands and empathizes with the economic impacts of the declining salmon returns across B.C.”
“Sadly today, many runs are in steep decline as direct result of a number of factors, including habitat destruction, harvest, and the effects of climate change,” she wrote.
She added that while the DFO does not have the mandate to provide financial aid for Canadian workers, it will reach out to the proper department to discuss salmon fishermen on the West Coast.
In response to CBC News, the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture said it has “strongly urged the Government of Canada to provide specific Employment Insurance enhancements aimed at assisting commercial fishermen and shoreworkers in B.C.’s fisheries-dependent communities.”
They noted the federal government has provided similar assistance in the Atlantic fisheries.
It also says the province is committed to conserving wild stocks so the industry can sustainably harvest salmon into the future.