Half of BC declining salmon not monitored by DFO


Half of B.C.'s declining salmon stocks not monitored by DFO

Local populations of B.C. salmon could "wink out" and we wouldn’t even be aware of the loss, says SFU researcher.

Published on Mon Aug 21 2017

Local populations of B.C. salmon could be completely wiped out and we wouldn’t even be aware of the loss, a Simon Fraser University researcher is warning.

That’s because the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been monitoring fewer and fewer streams, rivers and lakes where salmon return to spawn. In the 1980s, DFO monitored 1,500 locations. By 2014, that had dropped to 476.

“That translates to, (for only) one half of all managed salmon populations on B.C. Central and North coast do we have enough data to determine status,” said Michael Price, a PhD student in biological sciences at SFU.

Price analyzed the monitoring trend to see how well DFO was implementing the Wild Salmon Policy, first adopted in 2005. The policy has been heralded as an innovative tool for salmon conservation.

Over a decade later, salmon stocks have continued to decline. In 2016, the Fraser River sockeye returns plunged to historic lows, and it’s a similar situation this year. In 2017, Skeena River returns were also forecast at historic lows.

Over the past decade, 3 million pink, chum and sockeye salmon have gone missing every year, compared to the previous 10 years, Price said.

The decline in monitoring means DFO may have allowed fishing on stocks that should have been protected to allow the population to recover, Price said.

“The overall concern is that they’re allowing fisheries to continue on populations that they really have no idea whether they’re abundant or on the brink of extirpation,” he said.

Extirpation means the extinction not of an entire species, but of a local population in a specific area.

“On the flip side, there are some local populations in British Columbia that are considered healthy enough to sustain a harvest by local First Nations. But because we don’t have information…there have been circumstances where fisheries haven’t been allowed to continue.”

Why has monitoring declined so steeply in the face of the decline of an animal so important to the economy and culture of the West Coast? Budget cuts, a constant of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, are the easy answer. But now that the federal Liberal government has pledged to restore $1.4 billion in funding to DFO and the Canadian Coast Guard, there’s no excuse, Price said.

He estimated it would cost around $5 million to do effective monitoring of the entire B.C. coast.

But regardless of how much money DFO has had or not had to do monitoring, Price said his research shows the federal fisheries department has not been strategic with gathering “enough data for as many populations as you could to assess as many populations as you could.”

“Not having that information doesn’t directly correlate with salmon declining and further declining, but those warning bells aren’t going to be sounded if we don’t have the information to say, something’s wrong here,” Price said.

“We won’t know. They’ll just wink out and we won’t know about it.”