Credit Michael Price

issues and experts

Salmon scales reveal substantial decline in wild salmon population & diversity

February 22, 2021
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The diversity and numbers of wild salmon in Northern B.C. have declined approximately 70 per cent over the past century, according to a new SFU study. Researchers drawing on 100-year-old salmon scales report that recent numbers of wild adult sockeye salmon returning to the Skeena River are 70 per cent lower than 100 years ago. Wild salmon diversity in the Skeena watershed has similarly declined by 70 per cent over the last century.

The research undertaken by Simon Fraser University (SFU) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada was published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. 

The research team applied modern genetic tools to salmon scales collected from commercial fisheries during 1913-1947 to reconstruct historical abundance and diversity of populations for comparison with recent information. 

The analysis revealed that Canada’s second largest salmon watershed - the Skeena River - once hosted a diverse sockeye salmon portfolio composed of many populations that fluctuated from year to year, yet overall remained relatively stable. However, the Skeena sockeye portfolio has largely eroded over the last century, such that it now is dominated by a single population that primarily is supported by artificial production from spawning channels. 

“Our study provides a rare example of the extent of erosion of within-species biodiversity over the last century of human influence," says Michael Price, an SFU PhD candidate and lead author. “That loss in abundance and diversity from wild populations has weakened the adaptive potential for salmon to survive and thrive in an increasingly variable environment influenced by climate change.”

Credit Michael Price

Life-cycle diversity also has shifted: populations are migrating from freshwater at an earlier age, and spending more time in the ocean.

“Rebuilding a diversity of abundant wild populations – that is, maintaining functioning portfolios - should help ensure that important salmon watersheds like the Skeena are robust to global change," says John Reynolds, co-author, SFU professor, and Tom Buell BC Leadership Chair in Aquatic Conservation.

This research can help inform status assessments and rebuilding plan discussions for threatened salmon populations by expanding our understanding of historical diversity and production potential. 

AVAILABLE SFU EXPERTS

MICHAEL PRICE, PhD candidate, biological sciences                     

604.842.4409 | mhprice@sfu.ca 

JOHN REYNOLDS, professor, biological sciences                     

778.782.5636  | reynolds@sfu.ca 

CONTACT 

MELISSA SHAW, SFU  Communications & Marketing 

236.880.3297 | melissa_shaw@sfu.ca 

Simon Fraser University 

Communications & Marketing | SFU Media Experts Directory 

778.782.3210

ABOUT SIMON FRASER UNIVERSITY

As Canada’s engaged university, SFU works with communities, organizations and partners to create, share and embrace knowledge that improves life and generates real change. We deliver a world-class education with lifelong value that shapes change-makers, visionaries and problem-solvers. We connect research and innovation to entrepreneurship and industry to deliver sustainable, relevant solutions to today’s problems. With campuses in British Columbia’s three largest cities—Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey—SFU has eight faculties that deliver 193 undergraduate degree programs and 127 graduate degree programs to more than 37,000 students. The university now boasts more than 165,000 alumni residing in 143 countries.