Minister Murray does the right thing: licences for 15 Atlantic salmon (AS) farms not renewed. See the CBC story HERE. The story mentions that Minister Murray stated that: "...recent science indicates uncertainty over the risks posed by the farms to wild salmon,...". Some folks have grabbed onto that line to say that the decision was wrong given the uncertainty. The decision, however, by Minister Murray was the correct one. First, of course there is "uncertainty", there always will be when trying to understand the workings of a complex biological system like sea lice infestation in Nature. Uncertainty should NOT, however, be used for foot-dragging when the balance of information, not just any one study, indicates that there is a problem with fish farms.

Furthermore, much of that "uncertainty" stems from a recent DFO report that suggested that any link between sea lice on AS farms and wild salmon is tenuous at best which contrasts with mountains of other studies showing good evidence of a link. You can read the DFO report HERE. To cite the DFO report as a basis for "uncertainty" that should question Minister Murray's decision is problematic for several reasons:

1. The DFO report cites statistically non-significant relationships between indices of lice abundance on AS farms and on wild salmon in four sets of analyses (in Clayoquot Sound, Discovery Islands, Quatsino Sound and the Broughton Archipelago). In two of those analyses (representing Clayoquot Sound and Discovery Passage), however, the cited p value was 0.06 (a value of 0.05 is commonly accepted as the threshold for "signficance"). Every statistics' student, however, learns not to be "a slave" to the p-value and that what might not be statistically significant could still be biologically significant. This is especially important to consider when observing that ALL FOUR of the regions showed a positive trend between abundance of lice on farms and on wild salmon. In addition, when p values are above 0.05, I am always interested in the "power" of the statistical test. What are the chances that there really IS an effect of fish farms, but the statistcal test lacked the "power" to detect it? Here sample size is critical; low sample size typically reduces power. The DFO report is, sadly, obscure as to the sample sizes used in the regression analyses. Was it years of observation (6-7, pretty low) or weekly observation periods (could be much higher, but sample sizes are never explicitly stated)?

2. The analyses relied on lice data provided by the farms or by contractors hired by the farms. Surely, independent investigators would be better. The farms have a clear conflict of interest when providing data to DFO. Sorry, but given the apparent economic costs involved when closing farms I do not feel that it is appropriate for an industry that will be most impacted by a decision to provide the data that will influence that decision. We've seen that movie before (think big tabacoo and the sugar industry). The DFO report kinda' hints at this by explicitly stating that one of their assumptions (p. 5) is: "L. salmonis counts on Atlantic Salmon farms provided a reliable estimate of adult female abundance for that farm and for that week." An *independent* auditor would report on whether the counts are reliable. See HERE for an example of the perils of self-reporting of sea lice numbers by farms.

3. The analyses were NOT peer-reviewed by experts external to DFO or independent of farm operators. See the above point about sample size. Also, even if sample sizes were higher (weekly counts), that raises the issue of likely non-independence of data points in the analyses - a key requirement. Again, I would have liked to have seen their statistical approach peer-reviewed to have confidence in the analyses rather than just being marked as "Approved" by a DFO Director General. Approval by a Director General has zero relevance to the credibility of the science itself.

4. The data, even if generated by the farms, are NOT available to the public. It is standard operating procedure for data in published papers to be deposited in publicaly-accessible databases so independent investigators can analyze the data themselves. While the DFO report is unlikely to be published in a journal, that does not mean the data should not be made publicaly-accessible, especially given the Canadian Government's commitment to "Open Government" (see https://open.canada.ca/en).

5. One of the DFO report's conclusions is that: "The lack of statistical significance implies that the occurrence of L. salmonis infestation on wild migrating juvenile Pacific Salmon cannot be explained solely by infestation pressure from farm-sourced copepodids." Well, nobody really believes that fish farms are the ONLY source of sea lice infestation. We all recognize that sea lice are native to the Pacific coast and that infestations also occur from natural sources. The point is whether or not AS salmon farms *increase* the risk of sea lice on wild salmon (not whether or not AS farms are the only source) and whether an increased risk is acceptable given all the other threats faced by wild Pacific salmon. The DFO conclusion is not relevant to their stated goals (on page 5, top).

The above points degrade the confidence that the public will have on the DFO "science" used to suggest "uncertainty" in the impacts of AS fish farms on sea lice on wild fish. What is even worse, however, is folks who grabbed onto the single word, "uncertainty", to decry Minister Murray's bold decision. I bet they have not even read, much less evaluated, the DFO report. If they did, they would see that the DFO report is pretty cautiously worded in places.

Consequently, the "uncertainty" really lies in if the public can have confidence in DFO Aquaculture Management's approach to science-based advice. Thus, and with an appropriate nod to the precautionary principle as applied to wild salmon in decline across much of BC, Minister Murray made he right call in not renewing the 15 licences for the Discovery Island area. She put the welfare of wild salmon first!

Auditor-General's Office Report on Protecting Aquatic Species at Risk. Canada's Office of the Auditor General has just released its report on protecting aquatic species at risk (including salmon and steelhead). One of its major conclusions (page 29) is that: "...Fisheries and Oceans Canada, in collaboration with others, did not adequately protect selected aquatic species assessed as at risk. For the areas we examined, Environment and Climate Change Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada did not adequately contribute to meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 14 (Life Below Water)...". You can read the full report and recommendations (all of which DFO agreed with) HERE.

The Hunter Conservationist podcast: a discussion of the critical Thompson/Chilcotin conservation issue. Sept 15th, 2022 Click HERE.

Thompson/Chilcotin rivers' steelhead trout (TCS). Nov 25, 2022 The final estimate of the size of the spawning run of TCS (that will spawn in the spring of 2023) are in and show marginal improvements compared to the past few years. From catches in Chinook and chum salmon test fisheries in the lower Fraser River, the estimates of the number of spawners in the Thompson complex remains at 339 (95% confidence interval of 244-845). The Chilcotin River complex estimate remains at 166 spawners (no confidence interval was provided). The different tributary runs have peaked or are peaking in the lower Fraser River, see Fig 5 in the update HERE. The next status report will be in the summer of 2023 based on in-stream surveys.

Letter calling for action on Thompson/Chilcotin (TCS) steelhead trout. On January 24, 2022 myself and representatives of 14 conservation groups sent a letter to federal Ministers of Environment and Climate Change and Fisheries and Oceans (Minister Steven Guilbeault and Minister Joyce Murray, respectively) calling for the listing of TCS under the Species at Risk Act. This letter was sent after two COSEWIC assessments (in 2018 and 2020) have recommended a listing of Endangered. You can read the letter HERE. The federal government refused to list TCS after the 2018 assessment and the 2020 assessment's fate is pending.

A response to the letter was finally received on May 16th, 2022 (but was only passed to me Oct 23). You can read it HERE and judge for yourself as to its substance. To me, it bascially restates the issue and that mostly the same failed responses (i.e., actions under the (Fisheries Act) will continue. See also the Auditor General's report cited above for context.

Skeena River steelhead trout, Oct. 20, 2022. The Tyee Test Fishery operations began on June 10th this year. The FINAL estimate of the cumulative Skeena River summer steelhead index to Sept. 26 is 64. The average to this date = 140 (range: 22 (2021) to 261 (1998)). The estimated escapement for Skeena summer run steelhead to Sept 20th is 15,580, the average to this date = 34,300 (range: 5,390 to 63,945). In 66 years of operation, the 2022 summer steelhead escapement estimate is the 14th lowest.

Similarly, estimates of component runs are lower than typical. The population estimate for Bulkley-Morice river steelhead upstream of Witset Falls to Oct 20th was 6,152 (95% CI [3,631, 10,704]), 44% of the mean to this date = 13,866.

Finally, 181 summer steelhead have been observed at the fence to Sept. 18th, with a mean of 750 to the same date (range: 133 (06/21) to 1,531 (2016)).

Source: BC Ministry of Forests, Smithers, BC.

Yukon River Chinook and chum salmon, Nov 3, 2022. All Yukon River Chinook salmon counts are now complete for 2022. The final estimated count of Chinook salmon that have moved past the Pilot Station sonar site (near the mouth of the Yukon River) was only 44,581 fish. This includes US and Canadian-origin salmon and is only 36% of the total count at this time last year (and only 26% of the 10 year average). So far, 12,025 (30,699 last year; 52,549 average of the last 10 years) have crossed the Eagle counting station near the Alaska-Yukon border. The final estimated number is 12,514 - the number of Chinook salmon is well below the Canadian escapement target of 42,500 to 55,000 fish. Some 249 (843 last year; 817 longer term average) Chinook salmon have been dectected at the the Klondike River sonar site. One hundred and sixty-five fish have been counted passing through the Whitehorse fish ladder (270 at this time last year; 945 fish average over the previous 10 years) and many of these are hatchery fish (~40%). Typically, Canadian-origin chinook salmon make up about 40% of the total run into the Yukon River (~47% this year).

With 100% of the counts complete, the final number of fall chum salmon at Pilot Station, some of which make their way into Canada (only 10% this year, typically about 25%), is 237,000 (up from 146,172 last year, but just a bit more than one-third of the 647,536 - 10 year average). Note that the final numbers are lower than early estimates owing to removing some of the Summer run fish (that do not enter Canada) that had been included in earlier estimates. All other counts are now complete (as of Oct 22); some 22,075 fish (about 92% of the run complete) reached the sonar station upstream at Eagle, AK, near the international border. The Canadian escapement goal is 70,000 to 104,000 fish for the mainstem river and 22,000-49,000 for the Fishing Branch River (Porcupine River drainage; 3,673 were counted in the Porcupine River sonar station at Old Crow, YT, well below the 10 year average to this date of 28,583. The Fishing Branch River saw 2,695 fish counted (2,413 last year; 17,219 is the 10 year average). The final estimates of spawning numbers for all sites are slightly higher based on adjustments from migration timing and genetic analyses (see right hand column of update report tables). All Chinook and chum salmon fisheries remain closed. The update report can be viewed HERE.

Yukon River Chinook salmon, 2022 Pre-Season Forecasts, April 2022. Yes, there are salmon in the Canadian portion of the Yukon River (mostly Chinook and fall and summer-run chum salmon; a few coho 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. The Yukon River Panel, the body formed by Canadian and United States governments to implement the Yukon River Salmon Agreement, held their pre-season forecast meetings in early April.

Forecasts both for Chinook (91,000 - 140,000 basin-wide; 41,000 - 62,000 to Canadian waters) and fall chum salmon (78,101 - 148,000 basin-wide; 20,000 - 37,500 to Canadian waters) continue to be well below the recent 10 year and longer term historical averages. At this point, all fishing for fall chum salmon will be closed and there is a 90% chance that there will be no allowable catch for Chinook salmon. The various pre-season forecast presentations can be see HERE. The 2021 return numbers can be see HERE.

Fraser River sockeye salmon. Sept. 27, 2022. The Pacific Salmon Commission's Mission hydroacoustics site estimates that 5,619,500 fish have passed Mission on the lower Fraser River. The majority of these fish are Summer run fish (~3.2 million fish) and Late run fish (1.5 million), with the Early Stuart run (~244,000) and Early Summer run (565,159) complete. The run has transitioned to Late run sockeye salmon, which are still passing in good numbers daily (50-60,000 plus per day). The in-season adopted run size remains 6.70 million fish as no new report was issued this week. Water flow is now slightly lower than average for this time of year, butter temperature (at Yale) is 0.6 degrees C higher than typical. It is estimated that 2,769,304 sockeye salmon have migrated past the Big Bar rock slide site so far and is tailing off (Late run fish do not migrate upstream on the Fraser River as far as Big Bar).

It is important to note that despite some media reports, more than three times as many sockeye salmon have been retained in Canadian-based fisheries compared to the US-based catch of Fraser River sockeye salmon; more than 836,938 sockeye salmon have been caught in Canadian First Nations' Food, Social, and Ceremonial fisheries, and 228,137 in commercial purse seines and trolls. By contrast, 318,585 have been caught in US-based Tribal commercial, ceremonial/subsistence, and "all-citizen" fisheries. The most recent report can be viewed HERE. Take special note of the catch accounting between countries on the last page.

Furthermore, much has been made in the media of the recent downgrade of total run size from just over 9 million fish to about 6.7 million fish. What the media consistently fails to mention, however, is that these forecasts, as pointed out clearly by managers, are highly uncertain owing to myriad biological and computational factors. For instance, DFO reported pre-season that there was a 25% chance that the total Fraser River run size would be at or below 4.6 million fish. Thus, while the return to date is disappointing from a Canadian commercial harvest viewpoint, it is not entirely unexpected as some coverage in the media implies.

Finally, to add to what many see as a disappointing run size, some Fraser River sockeye salmon that are caught are being wasted. See this disturbing video of a "salmon dump" by Fishingwithrod.com. It's unknown how widespread this problem is, but surely some creative solutions are available to prevent such occurrences.

Estimated sockeye salmon run cumulative abundance at Mission by management group (Pacific Salmon Commission (PSC) www.psc.org, 27-09-22).

Nass and Skeena rivers, Aug 3, 2022. The Nass fish wheels have been operational since June 1. Estimates of sockeye salmon returns are 532,000 (with a 95% confidence interval of 438,000 to 635,000). Estimates for Chinook, coho, pink and chum salmon are 21,000 (22,000-24,000), 194,000 (103,000-286,000), 294,000 (187,000-402,000), and 45,000 (33,000-57,000).

In the Skeena River (Tyee test fishery), sockeye salmon are estimated to be returning at a level of 3.16 to 5.42 million fish (80% certainty), well above the escapement goal of 1.05 million fish.

Source: North Coast Salmon Update #6, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Indigenous fisheries partners.

South, 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. It's pretty amazing what you can find here. Many populations are rated to be at "moderate" to "high risk".

The Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative. Earlier this past summer former DFO Minister Bernadette Jordan announced a new $647 million "Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative" to try and stop the steep declines in, and rebuild, Pacific salmon abundance along Canada's Pacific coast (and Yukon River).

The "strategy" rests on four pillars: (i) conservation and stewardship, (ii) enhanced hatchery production, (iii) something called "Harvest Transformation", and (iv) Integrated Management and Collaboration. As with all such grand undertakings, the devil will be in the details. Described as an "unprecedented" initiative, and while I recognize the Minister's attention to the matter, I think the response is not bold enough in its thinking. If you want to know why, click HERE.

Seminar of interest:"The underwater epidemic: emerging viruses in wild Pacific salmon". Dr. Gideon Mordecai. UBC Institute of Oceans and Fisheries. Friday Oct 8, 11-12. You can watch this seminar online. A recording of the seminar is HERE.

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

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.


Yukon River Chinook salmon, Final Nov 4. 2021. The 2021 forecast is for between 42,000 and 77,000 "Canadian origin" Chinook salmon and 136,000 – 191,000 fall-run chum salmon. The Yukon Panel's pre-season forecast (April 2021) can be seen HERE. Unfortunately, overall numbers are unlikely to be near the upper end of those forecast; the joint Alaska-Yukon Yukon River Panel concluded at its January 2021 pre-season assessment 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." As shown below, they appear to have been correct.

The Nov. 4th (and final) in-season estimate for 2021 from DFO can be viewed HERE and so far 124,874 fish has passed the lower Yukon River sonar station and 31,631 have crossed into Canada. Overall numbers returning to Canadian portions of the Yukon drainage are tracking well below the most recent 10 year average although there are a few apparent bright spots (e.g., Klondike River near Dawson City are about at average return numbers, ~843) and passage at the Whitehorse fish ladder was higher than last year (although still only about 25% of the most recent 10-year average of 1,075 to this date). Further, the average size of Chinook salmon entering Canadian waters is also down (average of 763 mm versus 778 mm) and smaller females will contain fewer eggs.

Chum salmon returns are, so far, only about 20% of the most recent 10 year average (146,172 versus 723,413). There is always the chance that they are late, but those "in the know" tell me that this is an unlikely reason for such low returns. Of this total only 19,668 have crossed into Canada after passing the Eagle, AK, sonar site (11.9% of the 10 yr historical average) with 3,323 (9.1% of the 10 year historical average) moving up the Porcupine River monitoring site at Old Crow. Average fish size is also smaller for chum salmon this year compared to the historical average (~30 mm smaller). A dismal year for chum salmon for sure.

These “Total Count(s) to Date” both for Chinook and chum salmon, are preliminary estimates and may be changed following further review. The "Final" estimates will be published in the Yukon River Panel’s Joint Technical Committee Yukon River Salmon 2021 Season Summary and 2022 Outlook Report (JTC Report) in spring 2022. The JTC Report will be available online HERE.

An interesting recent online presentation on population diversity of Yukon River chinook salmon and its management implications can be viewed HERE. The Yukon portion begins at around 25 mins.

Where did all the Yukon River fish go? The answer to this critical question is unknown, but what we do know is that "by-catch" (unintentional catch) of Chinook and chum salmon in the marine so-called "whitefish" trawl fisheries (for species like pollock and Pacific cod) can be enormous. For instance, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the US reported more than 500,000 chum salmon taken in the pollock fishery this year (see HERE). In addition, while by-catch of Chinook salmon has been reduced of late, there are still thousands caught in pollock fisheries each year (see HERE). Such by-catch almost surely impacts Yukon River (and other rivers including some in BC) salmon, but these "whitefish" fisheries are worth over US $2.5 billion dollars a year (including Pacific cod and walleye pollock and fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska as well) - see HERE. This obvious conflict is increasing pressure to further limit the negative impacts of the groundfish fishery on Yukon River salmon as explained in this story.

Fraser River sockeye and pink salmon, Sept. 24, 2021:The Pacific Salmon Commission has completed its weekly test fishing reporting. The total run size to the Fraser River exceeded expectations and is estimated to be 2,054,000 - 54% higher than the pre-season forecast - woo-hoo! All four of the major runs (Early Stuart, Early Summer, Summer, and Late Summer) had in-season runs sizes better than expected, and the latter three all showed slightly delayed migration timing. This is the second highest abundance of this cycle year since 2009 (2013 was > 4 million fish).

At the other end of the extreme, only 19 sockeye salmon have passed the fish fence on Sweltzer Creek (Cultus Lake, lower Fraser River) and fully 13 of these have been retained for the broodstock program (and so will not spawn in the wild).

Fraser River pink salmon: The in-season estimate is up to 8,000,000 fish (the pre-season forecast [50% probability] was 3,009,000 fish. Passage at the Big Bar rockslide is continuing and the river right now is 0.7 degrees C below typical water temperature and flows are now 4% below typical levels. Despite variable river conditions, more than 1,800,000 Chinook, sockeye, and pink salmon have made it upstream of the Big Bar rockslide area.

A recent article in The Narwhal with some spectacular photographs contrasts the situation in much of BC with Bristol Bay, SW Alaska, where 68 million sockeye salmon returned this year!

Thompson/Chilcotin rivers' steelhead trout (TCS). Dec. 1, 2021. For the spring 2022 spawning group of TCS (which are passing through the Fraser and Thompson systems now), the Thompson River's complex of four spawning areas has been revised down to 68 spawners (typical range is 8 - 278) the lowest since records began in the 1970s (the next lowest, 150, was in 2018). The "lowest..." sounds bad enough, but consider that the total of 69 spawners represents an average of fewer than 20 fish for each of the four main spawning tributaries! The Chilcotin River complex estimate remains at only 32 spawners (typical range is 8 - 392), the lowest since records began 51 years ago. The run through the lower Fraser River test fishing site is about 100% complete to Dec. 1. More info can be found HERE. Note that this is the final escapement update for the 2022 (spring) spawning year.

The low returns of steelhead trout in the TCS and Skeena River areas are similar to record low returns on the Columbia River this summer. Incredibly, and by contrast, 5.6 million American shad (a species native to the EAST coast) have been counted through Bonneville Dam as of Aug. 29 - more than all salmon and steelhead combined!

Sadly, the state of affairs of TCS is being further compromised by what appears to be DFO's deliberate "watering-down" of a report by a panel of biologists that provided advice to try and address the dramatic population size declines of these fish. You can read about this issue HERE (Globe & Mail) and HERE (The Narwhal). At least within the world of conservation of Canada'a natural resources, such manipulation of information delivered to the public is a very serious breach of trust. It's also by no means unprecendented. For a look at some strikingly similar cases of DFO's bureaucratic meddling in science advice, read this important paper by Hutchings et al. from 1997.

Such manipulation, coupled with one of DFO's own scientists, Dr. Kristi Miller - a world renowned fish genomics and disease authority - stating that DFO is insufficiently independent from industry (it is, after all, FishERIES and Oceans Canada), clearly indicates that DFO, as currently organized, is not the best model for conservation of Canadian fish biodiversity (see also the paper above). While there are many excellent scientists, biologists, and fishery officers working for DFO, the poor and declining state of wild salmon and steelhead trout in BC requires a new model of management and oversight of these important components of Canada's biodiversity - one that, for a start, fully employs the protections afforded by Canada's Species at Risk Act. Many populations of salmon and steelhead trout are species at risk of extinction from Canada - so why not use the laws that have enacted by elected officials to, well, recover them? It simply makes no sense not to.

Skeena River steelhead trout, Oct 6, 2021. The Tyee Test Fishery operations began on June 10th this year. The cumulative Skeena River summer steelhead index to Sept 29th remains at 22. The average to this date = 150 (range: 22 (2021) to 265 (1998)). The escapement for Skeena summer run steelhead this season is estimated to be *5,461*, only 15% of the average to this date = 36,861 (range: 5,461 to 64,885). To this date, the 2021 steelhead abundance estimate ranks as the lowest year out of 66 years of operation. The Pacific Stock Assessment Review Committee (PSARC) vetted threshold of 35 K has been met in 15 of the past 66 years (22%) while the PSARC vetted minimum escapement target of 23 K has been met in 30 of the past 67 years (44%). Neither threshold was met in 2020. Under the guidelines identified in the Provincial Framework for Steelhead Management in BC, the 2021 summer steelhead run currently sits in the Extreme Conservation Concern Zone.

Owing to Skeena summer steelhead being in extreme conservation concern, the province of BC will be closing the steelhead fishery on the Skeena and its tributaries starting Oct 12, 2021. Please visit the Province of BC’s freshwater fishing website for more information (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/sports-culture/recreation/fishing-hunting/fishing/fishing-regulations.

PRV and Pacific salmon. July 23, 2021. There is considerable interest in determining the impacts of piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) on Pacific salmon. Considered to have been introduced to wild Pacific salmon by open net pen sea farm operations for Atlantic salmon, PRV is considered to be the causitive agent of Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflamation (HSMI) disease in Atlantic salmon and with liver and kidney failure in Chinook salmon. With climate change and habitat loss, the last thing wild Pacific salmon need is a new disease, regardless of the exact extent of its impacts, to content with.

That said, I for one find many of the studies published on this topic conflicting and confusing. It is almost like a "one said, the other said" argument. "Yes, PRV is serious", "No, it might not be, we could demonstrate no effect" - that kind of thing. Some are, regrettably, even kinda' "sensational" in my view.

Recently, two detailed physiological papers have come out the results of which would be interpreted as suggesting that PRV is a less serious concern than perhaps as first thought. The papers (and press releases associated with one of them) are HERE. These important studies on their own, very detailed and sophisticated, BUT not without important limitations when applied to wild salmon in a wild environment, particularly given that one life stage from one population from one species was studied. It is also difficult not to concude that the study on sockeye salmon lacked sufficient power to rigoruously test for a difference between PRV-infected fish and control fish. Finally, such studies simply cannot be interpreted in isolation, i.e., from all the other threats and their cumulative impacts on wild salmon.

The Pacific Salmon Foundation has been part of a Strategic Salmon Health Initiative to try and better understand salmon diseases and pathogens and their impacts on wild Pacific salmon (including other diseases and pathogens). Their 2020 report on PRV is HERE and is a good companion read to help interpret the results of individual physiology studies.


Thompson/Chilcotin rivers steelhead trout, Fraser River, Nov. 20, 2020. The final test fishing based estimates for the Thompson River complex of four spawning populations is 180 fish, the second lowest over a 44 year monitoring period. The estimate for the Chilcotin River complex of two spawning areas is 81 fish, the third lowest over a 50 year monitoring period. More information can be found HERE.

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/).

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.

Sept 6., 2020 update.Fraser River sockeye salmon returns continue to be well below expectations. As of August 13, the total number of fish passing the Mission hydroacoutic site is 177,300 fish. That sounds like a lot, but in the 2015 and 2016 runs (the parents that produced the 2020 fish) a total of 831,700 and 596,600, respectively had passed Mission by the same date.

Cumulative numbers of sockeye salmon passing Mission hydroacoustic site as of Aug 13 of each year. Data from the Pacific Salmon Commission's Fraser Panel Data Application (https://psc1.shinyapps.io/PSC_In_Season_Fraser/).

Consequently, the Fraser River Panel has adopted a total run size estimate for 2020 of only 274,000 fish (some fish are still to return). This estimate is associated with the lowest 10% of preseason forecast estimates. What this means is that conditions determining survival of the young fish produced in 2015 and 2016 appear to have been poor enough (presumably owing to poor ocean conditions) to generate a 2020 run so low that it is associated with the lowest 10% of pre-season estimates (i.e., the most pesimistic scenario). Despite having thousands of employees and knowing that run estimates are released by the Pacific Salmon Commission at scheduled times, twice per week from June to September, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in response to a request for comment by the CBC had nobody available for comment! Incredible, the agency responsible for managing Pacific salmon and nobody was available for comment. Speaks volumes.

Further north in the Yukon River, the number of Chinook salmon numbers passing the hydroacoustic site at Eagle, Alaska (just west of the Yukon border) has been estimated as only 14,000 fish, less than half of the historical average. We will follow these fish to see how many make it past the Whitehorse fishway later in the month.

July 24, 2020 update. Thompson and Chilcotin river spring spawning population estimates for steelhead trout have been revised upward, slightly, for the Thompson complex to 257 fish (from 134), but down in the Chilcotin complex, from 62 to 38 fish. Click HERE for more info.

July 18, 2020 update. Test fishing updates on sockeye salmon returns to the Fraser River are underway. Check out the Pacific Salmon Commission's new online app that lets you follow estimates of run size as the 2020 season progresses and relative to other years. Click on "Test Fishing" at the top and select your area of interest. Neat! You can also click on "Mission Abundance" to see the estimates of fish passage at Mission (from hydroacoustics). So far, numbers are way down based on those expected based on numbers from 2015 and 2016 - the parents that produced this year's fish - not so neat. You can also sign-up for weekly Fraser River sockeye salmon and pink salmon (in odd years) run and environmental updates HERE. Unfortunately, early run-size estimates are running well below pre-season forecasts.

High water on the Fraser River (~50% more than historical average) appears to be delaying salmon migration (understandably!), but fish passage facilities at the Big Bar Rock slide are making progress. See the "Information Bulletins" that are regularly updated. There is mention of a Chinook salmon hatchery program that will use wild fish from the run, but little information is provided on how many wild fish will be used and from what populations they will be taken from so it is unclear if this initiative will be a good one in the long run.

May 30, 2020 update.The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) will conduct a "regular" assessment both of the Chilcotin and Thompson rivers steelhead trout in November 2020. An emergency assessment of "Endangered" for both groups of steelhead trout was submitted to the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change in February 2018, but the federal government decided not to list these fish under Canada's Species at Risk Act (see above, and the Feb 29th update below for an analysis of this decision). The November 2020 "regular" assessment is a requirement of the Emergency Assessment procedure and provides another opportunity for folks to contact fisheries officials and federal government MPs and ministers to get the decision right this time. Click HERE for information on the COSEWIC assessment process.

April 3, 2020 update.Click HERE for the latest update on mitigating the Big Bar landslide on the Fraser River. Good progress appears to be being made.

February 29, 2020 update. Click HERE if you wish to read about how the listing process works and my take on why the rationales given by the Minister are problematic, particularly in terms of Interior Fraser River steelhead trout.

February 23, 2020 update. The federal government appears to be backsliding on its commitment to phase out open net-pen salmon farming on the BC coast by 2025 as promised in their last election platform. Their "plan" now is to have a plan to phase out open net-pen salmon culture by 2025. See The Narwhal article that explains it all. It's yet another classic example of lots of planning going on and not much action and trying to please two competing interests (open net-pen salmon farmers and those opposed to such operations) while the lack of real action further endangers wild salmon populations.

January 23, 2020 update. Big Bar Landslide. A contract to "immediately" initiate winter work to remove the mid-river obstructions at Big Bar has been awarded. See Minister Jordan's press release HERE.

January, 2020 update:The particularly sorry state of the transboundary management of Yukon Chinook salmon was recently recounted in this Narwhal article.

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


Sockeye salmon and pink salmon, Fraser River, Sept 13, 2019. The final 2019 test fishing results put estimates of sockeye salmon passing by Mission at fewer than 500,000 fish (the lowest in recorded history) and pink salmon at just under 8 million. These are estimates of numbers before many of these fish reached the Big Bar landslide area on the Fraser River upstream of Clinton, BC. For instance, just over 10,000 spawners were estimated to comprise the "early Stuart River" component of the Fraser sockeye salmon run in 2015 and the early 2019 forecast was for at least 25,000 fish. Post-season, however, the actual number of fish on the surveyed spawning grounds was estimated to be only 89 fish, less than 0.5% of the long term average. See HERE and HERE for more information. For some context, in 2019 over 56 million sockeye salmon returned to the Bristol Bay area of western Alaska, the fifth 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).

Thompson and Chilcotin rivers' steelhead trout, Nov 29th, 2019. The final estimates for 2019 are 134 adult steelhead trout across the Thompson River complex of four spawning areas and a mere 62 fish in the Chilcotin River watershed. These are the lowest numbers since estimates began over 40 years ago. For context, the numbers of spawners ranged up in the several thousand for both of these complexes in the 1980-2000 period. 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.

Skeena River steelhead trout, Oct 25th, 2019. The final estimate for Skeena River summer-run steelhead is 16,672 fish which is 53% 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 65 years (23%). Source: BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, Smithers, BC.

Yukon River Chinook salmon, August 2019. This year, the final count at the Whitehorse fishway (the longest wooden fishway in the world) totalled just 282 Chinook (many of which were hatchery-produced fish) - the lowest number in 40 years)

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