October 29, 2015

Simon Fraser University scientist Willie Davidson will co-lead a four-year project that holds the promise of reviving British Columbia’s commercial Coho salmon fishery. The project will develop the genomics resources and tools required for better stock identification, improved fisheries management, a more effective hatchery system, and growth of the land-based Coho salmon aquaculture industry.

Enhancing Production in Coho: Culture, Community, Catch (EPIC4) is one of 11 successful national projects resulting from the 2014 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition: Genomics and Feeding the Future, held by Genome Canada.

Davidson, a professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, and Louis Bernatchez, a Laval University biology professor, are co-leading the $9.9-million project. Genome B.C. and Genome Quebec, along with Genome Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Pacific Salmon Foundation and four aquaculture companies, are the project’s main funders.

Fifteen international scientists, including University of Victoria biology professor Ben Koop, who helped conceive the project, will develop and use genomics tools to address the health, environmental, fishing and aquaculture challenges bombarding Coho salmon production, as well as the social implications of the research.

B.C.’s commercial wild Coho salmon fishery in the Salish Sea has essentially been closed since 1999, in part due to declining and endangered populations. Reopening the fishery, based on recovered and enhanced populations, would reap economic benefits for the province and provide security for First Nations’ Coho-based food, social and ceremonial fisheries.

Davidson says this project’s long-term scientific goals also aim to shore up the West Coast’s ailing commercial Pacific salmon fisheries, including Fraser River sockeye. Collectively, they have decreased in value from $263 million to $24 million in the last 25 years.

Davidson says that, “For EPIC4, we have assembled an amazing team that includes the top researchers in the fields of salmonid genomics, population genetics, fisheries management, aquaculture genomics and social science. It is a privilege to be associated with these colleagues. We anticipate that EPIC4 will transform how Pacific Salmon are managed. The knowledge gained will improve the production of healthy fish, including increased resilience to pathogens and temperature fluctuations resulting from climate change.”