Among 28 southern groups of B.C. chinook assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, only two remain “not at risk”. Michael Humling photo

Among 28 southern groups of B.C. chinook assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, only two remain “not at risk”. Michael Humling photo

Scientists worry B.C. hatchery fish threatening endangered wild chinook

Latest ssessments identify more southern populations at risk of extinction

More chinook salmon populations have landed on the endangered species list in B.C.

Among 28 southern groups now assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), only two remain “not at risk.”

“Some of them are not in good shape at all,” said COSEWIC chair John Reynolds.

“It’s risky to predict the future with salmon, because sometimes they surprise us in a good way, but a lot of it will have to do with what people decide they want to do about it. If people want to commit the time and resources, deciding the benefits of recovering these species are greater than the cost, then their future could be different.”

Adding to 2018 assessments on 16 populations, this year COSEWIC focused on 12 southern groups whose numbers are significantly augmented by large-scale hatcheries. Counting only the wild fish, four populations are endangered — the most dire category prior to extinction in the wild— three are threatened, and one is of special concern. As in 2018, just one is not at risk. Three remote populations are data deficient.

With many salmon runs experiencing the lowest returns on record, there has been mounting public pressure for the federal government to step up hatchery production through the Salmonid Enhancement Program.

But conservation groups and scientists are sounding the alarm on the long-term consequences of high-volume hatcheries. Because the genes of fish change rapidly to suit their environment, the biggest concern is fish reared under ideal hatchery conditions will pass on inferior traits. After successive generations, the population could be unfit for the wild.

READ MORE: Thompson, Chilcotin Steelhead Trout in danger of extinction

“If you end up swamping a stream with hatchery genes, I don’t think that is a good recipe for long-term survival of the population, unless you’re prepared to perpetually keep putting out fish from hatcheries. That’s not what DFO’s policy is though. It’s to put wild salmon first,” Reynolds said.

He stressed small community hatcheries have a negligible impact on wild salmon and often benefit smaller depleted runs. The 23 federally-controlled hatcheries of concern release hundreds of millions of juvenile salmon per year.

COSEWIC released its conclusions in November. The detailed findings will not be available until the fall of 2021.

Until then, the actual numbers of wild versus hatchery fish in the latest assessments is unclear, but Reynolds said the competition is “significant — the proportion of hatchery fish can be quite high.”

Importance to fisheries

B.C.’s iconic chinook salmon have high cultural value to First Nations, and are also an economic driver worth hundreds of millions of dollars to both the tourism and commercial fishing industries. The human appetite for chinook is also in competition with more than 100 marine and land animals that favour the food source.

Predation, climate change, salmon farms and over-fishing are often blamed for cumulative impacts on chinook mortality.

The Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF) is undertaking a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind analysis in B.C. on the impacts of hatcheries, and whether they’re meeting their objectives. PSF Science advisor Brian Riddell emphasized the need for limiting hatchery fish to 30 per cent of a stock, and approaching the unique needs of each wild population individually.

“You can’t have everything at once. You can’t substantially increase the numbers without having an effect on the productivity of the natural stock. But you can have a more balanced approach and gradually restore the population but you have to protect the integrity of the local genetic adaptations.”

READ MORE: Canada can lead the way to save sharks from extinction, says fisheries expert

Both the recreational and commercial fishing sectors are vocal supporters of hatchery production. Sport fishing groups, who say they are unfairly targeted with angling restrictions, are also pushing for the tagging of all hatchery chinook so they can more easily target the fish and potentially enjoy more openings.

Joy Thorkelson, president of the United Fishermen And Allied Workers’ Union agreed, adding all species of hatchery fish are vital to the commercial sector.

“If there wasn’t a hatchery there wouldn’t be any fish,” she said. “As habitat has been destroyed there’s been more populations that are at risk, but they’ve been replaced by hatchery fish so we can continue to catch food. All of the major fisheries depend on hatchery fish to varying degrees.”

Government concerns

B.C.’s new parliamentary secretary for fisheries and oceans, Fin Donnelly, has been given a list of mandates to protect and conserve wild salmon populations, including the order to “support innovation in fish hatcheries”.

Aaron Hill, executive director for the Watershed Watch Salmon Society worries this will translate to a robust hatchery program that caters to the economic needs of fisheries, and not the needs of the wild fish themselves.

In a phone interview, Donnelly shared the concern of hatchery genes being passed to wild populations through federally controlled, large-scale hatcheries, but the strategic use of small hatcheries will remain an important component in provincial efforts to rebuild stocks.

“Community hatcheries and target-based hatcheries—we see it provincially as part of the solution. They play an important role, not just in what they do for salmon rearing, but in education and community engagement.”

The PSF’s scientific review of hatchery impacts will play a critical role in informing the province’s approach, Donnelly added.

The full COSEWIC study will be formally submitted to the environment ministry in the fall of 2021, at which time the Species at Risk Act listing process will begin for the assessed chinook populations.



quinn.bender@blackpress.ca

Chinook salmon protectionFisheries and Oceans Canada

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Artist Jim Holyoak’s installation “Quagmire.” Holyoak will be the first speaker for the Artist Talk Online Winter 2021 series. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
North Island College Artist Talk goes online for winter 2021

The series invites contemporary Canadian artists to speak about their professional practice

(NEWS FILE PHOTO)
City of Port Alberni, ACRD prepare for compost collection in 2021

Roadside pickup is expected to begin in the City of Port Alberni in June 2021

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the legislature, Jan. 11, 2021. (B.C. government)
Vancouver Island smashes COVID-19 high: 47 new cases in a day

Blowing past previous records, Vancouver Island is not matching B.C.s downward trend

Black bear cubs Athena and Jordan look on from their enclosure at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association in Errington, B.C., on July 8, 2015. Conservation Officer Bryce Casavant won the hearts of animal lovers when he opted not to shoot the baby bears in July after their mother was destroyed for repeatedly raiding homes near Port Hardy, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Supreme Court quashes review of North Island conservation officer who refused to euthanize bears

Bryce Casavant was dismissed from his job for choosing not to shoot the cubs in 2015

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

A long-term care worker receives the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic in Nanaimo earlier this month. (Island Health photo)
All Island seniors in long-term care will be vaccinated by the end of this weekend

Immunization of high-risk population will continue over the next two months

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly responds to a question in the House of Commons Monday November 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal minister touts need for new B.C. economic development agency

Last December’s federal economic update promised a stimulus package of about $100 billion this year

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

Most Read