September 8, 2009

What killed B.C.’s salmon? Politics

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Nearly 10 million salmon should have swam up the Fraser River this summer, not the dismal 1.37 million that did, setting the record for lowest returns and effectively shutting down all but small harvest opportunities for First Nations who depend on the fish.

What’s killing the salmon? The culprit could be changing ocean currents, food supply shifts, infections from sea lice at fish farms, or a combination of things. No one knows for sure, because the science isn’t being funded to find out, reports The Canadian Press.

Not much is known about salmon once they get to the ocean, but scientists can design experiments to find out. Huge cuts to grants and programs over the years have prevented these studies from becoming a reality.

“You could pick just about any aspect of the management cycle and the scientific assessment, and you can say, ‘Well, we used to do this but we don’t any more,'” said Scott Hinch, a researcher at the University of British Columbia who specializes in salmon ecology.

The government is focusing on tracking salmon during the season, rather than investigating what happens when they’re at sea.

During the collapse of the Fraser River salmon, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Gail Shea was in Norway, attending the largest aquaculture conference in the world because she “supports aquaculture in Canada which is an important part of our economy,” according to Rafe Mair in The Tyee. Some criticize Shea for supporting fish farms and not protecting the salmon industry, the article says.

If policy isn’t enforced and scientific funding isn’t available, it may be awhile before we know what happened to the 9 million missing fish.

InvestigateWest reported more on Pacific Northwest salmon population changes here.

– Emily Linroth

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