SALMON POPULATIONS: Watch more streams

December 8, 2008\
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is not monitoring enough rivers to be able to accurately assess the state of the Pacific salmon fishery, according to a new study. Since the preservation of salmon stocks depends on knowing how few are left, it appears the fishery may survive in spite of the DFO rather than because of it.\
A study published in the current issue of the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences has revealed that the DFO is monitoring less than a tenth of the 2,592 known salmon runs in a coastal region of British Columbia. Of the 215 streams it does appear to monitor consistently, only four per cent (seven streams) have always met DFO targets for salmon runs from 1950 until 2005.\
Analysis of the department’s data by researchers from B.C.’s Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the University of California reveals that the number of streams the DFO monitored steadily decreased over that half-century. The streams that failed to meet targets for the strength of the salmon runs tended to be the very ones the DFO stopped monitoring, resulting in a bias in favour of healthier streams.\
So of the 137 runs monitored by the DFO between 2000 and 2005, 35 per cent of the salmon runs on the central and north coasts of British Columbia are depressed (or very depressed), according to the researchers. The study suggests that if the DFO had assessed more streams, the percentage of those with depressed or very depressed salmon stocks would probably be twice as high.\
The DFO will ultimately fail to protect salmon stocks from overfishing if it habitually overestimates their number. A 2006 study commissioned by the DFO recommended that the ministry monitor at least 407 streams each year. If tallies based on 137 streams are flawed, the consequent fishing quotas are too high and Pacific salmon may be in greater jeopardy than many realize.\
The impact of overfishing on Pacific salmon is already dramatic. There are far fewer fish. And those that remain are smaller. Throw in expanding fish-farm operations and corresponding sea-lice infestations, under-funding and overly hopeful quotas at the DFO, and it seems a good time to start worrying that Pacific salmon may go the way of Atlantic cod.\
Ultimately, any possibility of the DFO achieving its “vision” of robust fisheries requires adequate funding, accurate information and sharing data with stakeholders.\
Canada’s remaining fish stocks are a public resource. Knowing what state they are really in is a matter of the public interest.

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Chris Genovali, executive director of Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
Chris Genovali, Executive Director

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