Fraser River sockeye salmon preparing to spawn in the Adams River near Salmon Arm.

Main salmon killer still elusive, inquiry told

Report flags trouble at sea for Fraser River sockeye

No single force stands out as the main culprit behind the die-off of millions of Fraser River sockeye salmon in recent years, according to findings tabled at the Cohen Commission.

A new report analyzing cumulative impacts on sockeye suggests the fish most likely died at sea, not in the Fraser itself or one of its tributaries.

It points to ocean conditions and climate change as two “likely” factors that may have contributed to the long-term stock decline, particularly as juvenile sockeye migrate out from the mouth of the river to Queen Charlotte Sound and beyond into the open Pacific.

“It is very likely that poor marine conditions during the coastal migration life stage in 2007 contributed to the poor returns observed in 2009,” the cumulative impacts report says.

It notes water temperatures were much cooler in 2008, and the better conditions for salmon may have been part of the reason for 2010’s surprisingly large run.

Climate change and ocean conditions may also play a role further out at sea, it says.

“Some important predators appear to be increasing in numbers and some prey are decreasing,” it notes, rating that as a “possible” contributor to declines.

The report was prepared by consultants ESSA Technologies Ltd. and lead author David Marmorek testified at the commission earlier this week.

His role was to distill the findings of a dozen other scientific reports conducted for the commission to probe separate potential threats to sockeye.

The report found no conclusion is possible on the impact of pathogens and diseases in the sockeye decline.

It cited widely diverging scientific opinions of the inquiry’s two researchers who studied the possible role of salmon farms.

They found diseases from the farms might play a role but completely disagreed in interpreting the actual evidence.

ESSA’s report did note they agreed sea lice, escaped Atlantic salmon and waste from the farms were all unlikely to play a significant role.

It’s also unlikely, the report found, that Lower Mainland land use or upriver factors ranging from logging and mining to agriculture or hydroelectric projects were primary drivers of the decline.

Similarly, pre-spawn mortality of returning sockeye caused by habitat changes or contaminants were unlikely factors.

There are plenty of unanswered questions that were beyond the scope of the commission’s technical reports and therefore weren’t considered by their teams of researchers, Marmorek noted.

Large releases of hatchery fish may compete with salmon for food or attract predators to the same area, he suggests.

That may also be a factor with pink salmon.

The report notes there’s evidence pink salmon from Alaska and Russia compete alongside Fraser sockeye in the North Pacific and could cause food shortages that hurt sockeye numbers in years with large numbers of pinks.

It also raises the question of whether the 2008 eruption of an Alaskan volcano naturally fertilized the ocean with ash and boosted food supplies, leading to the supercharged return of 30 million sockeye in 2010.

Marmorek calls for more research on various salmon stressors, particularly in the early ocean stage.

The Cohen inquiry is in its final days of hearings, with senior officials now taking the stand from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

A final report is due next year.

The judicial inquiry led by retired Judge Bruce Cohen was called by the federal government after less than 1.5 million sockeye returned in 2009, far fewer than the more than 10 million expected.

Just Posted

Port Alice trailer goes up in flames in the early morning hours

The North Island Gazette will continue to update the story with more details as it progresses.

1041 customers without power due to outages in Northern Vancouver Island

Keep following the North Island Gazette for more on the power outages.

VIDEO: Sports Talk with Tyson: North Island Bantam Eagles are ready for provincials

Sports Talk with Tyson is back this week with an indepth look at the North Island Bantam Eagles.

Ferry connecting Port Hardy and Bella Coola expected to set sail this summer

Its first in-service route will sail in central coast waters on May 18, 2019.

Thunderbird movie films in downtown Port Hardy

A film crew of approximately 30-40 people has shut down part of Market Street in Port Hardy.

VIDEO: Students in MAGA hats mock Native American at Indigenous Peoples March

Diocese in Kentucky says it is investigating the matter, caught on video by onlookers

Want to avoid the speculation tax on your vacant home? Rent it out, Horgan says

Premier John Horgan and Sheila Malcolmson say speculation and vacancy tax addresses homelessness

CONSUMER REPORT: What to buy each month in 2019 to save money

Resolve to buy all of the things you want and need, but pay less money for them

UPDATE: B.C. woman and boy, 6, found safe, RCMP confirm

Roseanne Supernault says both she and her six-year-old nephew are fine and she has contacted police

PHOTOS: Women’s Marches take to the streets across B.C. and beyond

Women and allies marched worldwide protesting violence against women, calling for equality

Mowi reassures RDMW future of aquaculture industry in wake of historic announcement last month

Mowi anticipates a plethora of opportunities in other areas of the North Island for economic growth.

Anxiety in Alaska as endless aftershocks rattle residents

Seismologists expect the temblors to continue for months, although the frequency has lessened

Women’s March returns across the U.S. amid shutdown and controversy

The original march in 2017, the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, drew hundreds of thousands of people

Federal Liberals announce former B.C. MLA as new candidate in byelection

Richard Lee will face off against federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh

Most Read