Record-low salmon monitoring earns federal government a failing grade for conservation efforts say SFU experts

August 21, 2017

By Justin Wong

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is not monitoring enough spawning streams to accurately assess the health of Pacific salmon, according to a new study led by Simon Fraser University researchers Michael Price and John Reynolds.

The study, published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, reveals that the DFO does not have enough data to determine the status of 50 per cent of all managed salmon populations along B.C.’s north and central coasts.

Analysis of DFO's own data by the SFU researchers, and researchers from other institutions, shows that the annual number of streams monitored by the DFO has steadily decreased to a record low. This despite a key commitment of Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy to assess the health of salmon populations, and to increase the abundance of those populations deemed at risk.

One of the five key recommendations in the study calls for increased federal funding to ensure that salmon are adequately monitored. This equates to less than one per cent of the $1.4 billion in additional funding recently allocated to DFO’s Pacific Region over the next five years.

Visits to spawning streams provide vital information on trends over time—a biological status required to guide fisheries and conservation. Without such information, fisheries may continue to catch diminished populations without the necessary warning bells sounding.

“Our knowledge of salmon populations in B.C. is eroding rapidly,” says Price, a PhD candidate. “Without increased support for annual spawning surveys, the rich legacy of population data available for B.C.’s coast is at serious risk of becoming irrelevant for future assessments of management and conservation status.”

Indeed, “you can't manage salmon populations if you don't know how they're doing,” says Reynolds, a biology professor and the Tom Buell B.C. Leadership Chair in Aquatic Conservation.

Fast Facts:

  • Annual counts of spawning streams have declined by 70 per cent since the 1980s.
  • Today, the status of 50 per cent of all wild salmon populations on B.C.’s north and central coasts cannot be assessed due to the lack of monitoring initiatives;
  • The Fraser River sockeye commercial fishery closed in July due to lower than expected returns;
  • Low returns of Skeena River sockeye in 2017 prompted commercial, recreational and food-fishery closures for First Nation communities along the river;
  • Diminished salmon returns negatively impact the B.C. salmon fishing industry (commercial and recreational), which annually contributes $500 million and approximately 4,000 full-time jobs to the local economy.