Fraser Sockeye: Scale of sea-lice problem?

by Mike Price
Globe and Mail, Aug. 19, 2009

Paul Sprout, of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, writes that sea lice from fish farms are not the explanation for this year’s crash of Fraser River sockeye (Fishing For Answers – letters, Aug. 15). How can anyone make such a conclusive statement at this juncture?

Wild salmon face multiple human-caused stressors; no single pressure alone can be blamed for the dramatic decline of sockeye we now witness. However, salmon farms are the most recent stressor to arrive on our coast, and in this short time numerous researchers have implicated sea lice originating on farms in the decline and collapse of local wild stocks.

The majority of juvenile sockeye from the Fraser migrate through B.C.’s
highest concentration of salmon farms within their first few weeks at sea, and recent evidence suggests sockeye in the northern Georgia Strait host elevated lice levels in close proximity to farms.

Sockeye from the Skeena River are returning in low numbers, though not to such a perilous state as to close the local sport and food fishery. Fraser River sockeye are well beyond this, with many populations facing the threat of extinction. Is the situation not urgent enough to at least consider whether farms are having an effect on Fraser sockeye?

Michael Price
Conservation biologist, Raincoast Conservation Foundation

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