Below are brief summary statements about updates I receive on the status of particular runs of Pacific salmon and steelhead trout in British Columbia and Yukon waters. To cut to the chase, I have kept commentary to a minimum and just provided numbers and the source where you can find additional information about methods, threats, etc. If these figures bother you, let it be known to your local MLA, MP, the current Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Bernadette Jordan (min@dfo-mpo.gc.ca), the current Minister of the Environment and Climate Change (Jonathan.Wilkinson@parl.gc.ca; all former Ministers have refused to list salmon and steelhead trout at risk of extinction under Canada's Species at Risk Act, SARA), and the BC Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy (ENV.Minister@gov.bc.ca).

As each year's final totals come in, I will replace the previous year's totals.

For regular updates, between annual summaries, scroll to the bottom.

What are the root causes of these declines and what can be done about it? These are the billion dollar questions that cannot be answered here easily. Certainly climate change and a changing ocean, habitat loss and degradation, disease and pathogens, "freak" accidents like the 2019 Big Bar rockslide, and overharvest (in directed fisheries and from incidental "by-catch") have all contributed to the declines. One recent summary of trends and the particular role of climate change can be found HERE. Not only do these declines result in the loss of "made in BC biodiversity", they have significant economic impacts. The total numbers of salmon of all species caught (commerical and recreational fisheries) in BC waters has declined from almost 15.6 million fish in 2013 to 4.4 million fish in 2018. Catch statistics over time can be found HERE (look for "Canadian Salmon Catch and Enhanced Salmon Production").

Urban Salmon. A brief, but inspiring film about restoring some of Vancouver's lost salmon streams, by Fernando Lessa. It can be done.

Yukon River Chinook salmon, Feb. 10, 2021. Yes, there are salmon in the Canadian portion of the Yukon River (Chinook and chum salmon). In fact, these Chinook salmon are the longest migrating salmon in North America, over 3,200 km to upstream of Whitehorse and into northern BC. This year, the near final count at the Whitehorse fishway (the longest wooden fishway in the world) is just 200 Chinook (44 of which were hatchery-produced fish and down 82 from last year) - the lowest number in 41 years) - compared to 690 in 2018 and over 1,200 in 2017. The joint Alaska-Yukon Yukon River Panel concluded at its January 2021 meeting that despite fishery closures, "minimum spawning objectives were not achieved for any Yukon River salmon stocks currently recognized in the Yukon River Salmon Agreement." Click HERE or go to @whitehorsefishladder on Facebook for more information.



Fish farms, be gone: Sometimes they get it right! The federal government has announced that open sea pen fish farms in the Discovery Islands will be phased out by July 1 of 2022. This is an important step toward the necessary elimination of open net-pen aquaculture by 2025 as promised by the Liberal Government. Kudos to the myriad forces (and the multiple pressure points were key, no single group deserves credit) that kept the pressure on to make DFO commit to the correct decision. You can read the DFO announcement HERE. A good day for wild Pacific salmon, BC's provincial fishes!

To minimize any confusion about what the Minister has been asked to do by the PM, you can view the Minister's mandate letter HERE and the most relevant line states that the Minister will (boldface added):

"Work with the province of British Columbia and Indigenous communities to create a responsible plan to transition from open net-pen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia waters by 2025 and begin work to introduce Canada’s first-ever Aquaculture Act."

There is an interesting article in The Narwhal about the surge in land-based salmon farming - in Florida of all places!

Pacific Salmon Foundation Position on DFO Consultations with First Nations in the Discovery Islands. The Pacific Salmon Foundation has issued a statement on their perspective on DFO's decision to consult with First Nations on the fate of fish farms in the Discovery Islands. To read their statement click HERE. I support this perspective wholeheartedly. The statement, essentially, supports consultations, but also urges the federal government to fulfil their commitment to remove fish farms from the Discovery Islands by 2025. I also suppport consultations, but do not want them used as an excuse NOT to fulfil this commitment and remove fish farms by 2025. Recovering depressed populations of Pacific salmon and trout in southern BC demands no less.

Sockeye salmon and pink salmon, Fraser River, Sept 22, 2020. The 2020 test fishing and hydroacoustics estimation season is over. The cumulative number of fish passing by Mission is estimated at 293,000 fish (the lowest in recorded history). These are estimates of numbers before many of these (~50%) fish reach the Big Bar landslide area on the Fraser River upstream of Clinton, BC. See HERE. For some context, over 58 million sockeye salmon returned to the Bristol Bay area of western Alaska in 2020, the sixth year in a row that the run size exceeded 50 million salmon. A total of 15 groups of Fraser River sockeye salmon (as well as several populations of coho and Chinook salmon) have been assessed at some level of risk by COSEWIC (The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, cosewic.ca), yet to date none have been listed under SARA (click HERE for a summary of non-listings - i.e., "No Status" under the "SARA status" column).

Daily numbers of sockeye salmon passing Mission hydroacoustic site as of Oct 1 of each year. Data from the Pacific Salmon Commission's Fraser Panel Data Application (https://psc1.shinyapps.io/PSC_In_Season_Fraser/).



South Coast/Fraser River Chinook salmon 2020. Twelve more populations of Chinook salmon were assessed by COSEWIC at the recent (Nov. 2020) species assessment meeting. Of these, four were designated Endangered, three Threatened, and one Special Concern, and one was assessed as Not at Risk. Three remote populations were determined to be Data Deficient, meaning that more information will need to be collected before they can be assessed. Click HERE for details on the assessments. Large-scale hatchery supplementation was considered an important factor that is detrimental to some populations.

Assessments by COSEWIC were also completed in November of 2018 for a subset of Canadian Chinook salmon, i.e., those subject to minor influence from hatchery supplementation, and that are located on Vancouver Island, the south coast, and the Fraser River (16 population groups). The population in the Okanagan River has been assessed twice, once in 2006 and again in 2017. Of the former 16 units, 8 were assessed as Endangered, 4 as Threatened, 1 as Special Concern, 2 as Data Deficient, and 1 (South Thompson, Summer, Ocean-type) as Not at Risk. The average decline in the estimated numbers of spawning adults over that last 3 generations (9-13 years) was -45% (range: -91% to +26%). Only one unit had a positive trend over the past 3 generations (the South Thompson, Summer, Ocean-type). The Okanagan River population has not been subject to the same kind of quantitative analysis of spawner number, but the number of spawners ranged from 5-36 in the 2006 assessment (Threatened) and averaged 112 in the 2017 assessment (Endangered). Under SARA, there is actually no mandated timeline for the Minister to refer a proposed listing to the Governor-in-Council (a special sub-group of Cabinet that actually makes listing decisions). That said, former Minister of Environment and Climate Change (ECC) Catherine McKenna committed to making sure such decisions occur within 3 years for commercially-fished species. Optimistically, therefore, the current Minister of ECC (North Vancouver MP Jonathan Wilkinson) has 3 years from the time he received COSEWIC's annual report (October 2019, so he has until October of 2022) to facilititate a decision on the 2018 south coast/Fraser River assessments by COSEWIC (and until Oct 2021 to decide the SARA fate of the 2017 assessed Okanagan River population). That said, despite being assessed as Threatened (and now Endangered) in 2006, various Ministers have not listed the Okanagan River population under SARA in the ensuing 14 years. You can see the status of these fish HERE.

Thompson and Chilcotin rivers' steelhead trout, Dec. 8, 2020. Both groups were confirmed as Endangered at the Nov. 2020 species assessment meeting of COSEWIC. See the press release HERE.

Thompson and Chilcotin rivers' steelhead trout, Nov 30, 2020. The fifth estimates for 2020 are 180 adult steelhead trout across the Thompson River complex of four spawning areas and a mere 81 fish in the Chilcotin River watershed. These are the second lowest numbers for the Thompson complex since estimates began over 40 years ago and are the third lowest for the Chilcotin over the past 50 years. For context, the numbers of spawners ranged up in the several thousand for both of these complexes in the 1980-2000 period, with as many as 2,500 Thompson River fish as recently as 2005. These steelhead were recently denied listing under SARA by the federal government despite their being assessed as Endangered by COSEWIC in February 2018. see HERE for more information



North and central coast Pacific salmon. The best source here is the Pacific Salmon Foundation's Pacific Salmon Explorer. This is terrific resource that is long overdue. It has population size trends, habitat trends, water quality, threats, you name it. Many populations are rated to be at "moderate" to "high risk".



Skeena River steelhead trout, Sept. 15, 2020. The estimate so far for Skeena River summer-run steelhead is 15,709 fish which is 43% of the long term average to that date and much less than the long term sustainable population size target of 35,000 fish, a population size reached in only 15 of the last 66 years (23%). Source: BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, Smithers, BC.



Have a comment or want to be informed of updates? etaylor@zoology.ubc.ca

 

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