The researchers found that fisheries with access to high population diversity had up to 3.8 times more stable catch and three times longer seasons than fisheries with access to fewer populations.

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Pacific salmon fisheries' biodiversity underpins indigenous food security

July 08, 2016
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By Justin Wong

A study led by Simon Fraser University researchers Holly Nesbitt and Jonathan Moore has found evidence that biodiversity in salmon fisheries can positively support the food security of indigenous peoples.

The researchers found that fisheries with access to high population diversity had up to 3.8 times more stable catch and three times longer seasons than fisheries with access to fewer populations.

Nesbitt, who gathered data while completing her master’s degree in the School of Resource and Environmental Management (REM), says the researchers examined indigenous fisheries with different “salmon-folios.”

“Like a well-balanced financial portfolio that can smooth market fluctuations, fisheries that caught a more diverse portfolio of salmon populations and species were more stable through time,” says Nesbitt.

This study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, suggests that protecting fine-scale salmon diversity will help promote food security for indigenous people.

“One of the surprising findings was that catch stability was mainly driven by hidden population diversity within salmon species, while the number of different salmon species had a smaller effect,” says Nesbitt.

While large salmon watersheds like the Fraser River contain five species of Pacific salmon including Chinook and sockeye, there can also be dozens of locally adapted and genetically-unique populations of salmon within each species.

Nesbitt and Moore analyzed 30 years of Fisheries and Oceans Canada catch data from salmon fisheries located in indigenous communities throughout the Fraser River watershed. The researchers then examined the degree to which species-level and population-level diversity underpin aspects of food security.

“We know that climate change is making the world increasingly volatile; this research illustrates how protecting existing biodiversity can help dampen this variability and support food security for indigenous peoples,” says Moore, a professor in both the Department of Biological Sciences and REM.

 “On the other hand, these findings also indicate that loss of salmon biodiversity can increase the volatility of fisheries, even if they are hundreds of km downstream.”

According to First Nations and political leaders, this study provides further evidence for why protecting salmon habitat can pay dividends.

Bob Chamberlin, vice-president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and chairman of the First Nation Wild Salmon Alliance, says protecting broad genetic diversity in Wild Salmon stocks will help provide for our future generations.

Port Moody-Coquitlam MP Fin Donnelly adds: “Moore’s and Nesbitt’s research clearly demonstrates diversity is key, especially when it comes to salmon survival,” says “The study verifies the necessity of habitat protection.”

If you would like to learn more about the event please visit the links below:

Globe and Mail - Salmon runs with more diversity provide best catches, study finds
Vancouver Sun - Salmon diversity improves catch for First Nations, SFU study finds