Among 28 southern groups of B.C. chinook assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, only two remain “not at risk”. Michael Humling photo

Among 28 southern groups of B.C. chinook assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, only two remain “not at risk”. Michael Humling photo

Scientists worry B.C. hatchery fish threatening endangered wild chinook

Latest ssessments identify more southern populations at risk of extinction

More chinook salmon populations have landed on the endangered species list in B.C.

Among 28 southern groups now assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), only two remain “not at risk.”

“Some of them are not in good shape at all,” said COSEWIC chair John Reynolds.

“It’s risky to predict the future with salmon, because sometimes they surprise us in a good way, but a lot of it will have to do with what people decide they want to do about it. If people want to commit the time and resources, deciding the benefits of recovering these species are greater than the cost, then their future could be different.”

Adding to 2018 assessments on 16 populations, this year COSEWIC focused on 12 southern groups whose numbers are significantly augmented by large-scale hatcheries. Counting only the wild fish, four populations are endangered — the most dire category prior to extinction in the wild— three are threatened, and one is of special concern. As in 2018, just one is not at risk. Three remote populations are data deficient.

With many salmon runs experiencing the lowest returns on record, there has been mounting public pressure for the federal government to step up hatchery production through the Salmonid Enhancement Program.

But conservation groups and scientists are sounding the alarm on the long-term consequences of high-volume hatcheries. Because the genes of fish change rapidly to suit their environment, the biggest concern is fish reared under ideal hatchery conditions will pass on inferior traits. After successive generations, the population could be unfit for the wild.

READ MORE: Thompson, Chilcotin Steelhead Trout in danger of extinction

“If you end up swamping a stream with hatchery genes, I don’t think that is a good recipe for long-term survival of the population, unless you’re prepared to perpetually keep putting out fish from hatcheries. That’s not what DFO’s policy is though. It’s to put wild salmon first,” Reynolds said.

He stressed small community hatcheries have a negligible impact on wild salmon and often benefit smaller depleted runs. The 23 federally-controlled hatcheries of concern release hundreds of millions of juvenile salmon per year.

COSEWIC released its conclusions in November. The detailed findings will not be available until the fall of 2021.

Until then, the actual numbers of wild versus hatchery fish in the latest assessments is unclear, but Reynolds said the competition is “significant — the proportion of hatchery fish can be quite high.”

Importance to fisheries

B.C.’s iconic chinook salmon have high cultural value to First Nations, and are also an economic driver worth hundreds of millions of dollars to both the tourism and commercial fishing industries. The human appetite for chinook is also in competition with more than 100 marine and land animals that favour the food source.

Predation, climate change, salmon farms and over-fishing are often blamed for cumulative impacts on chinook mortality.

The Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF) is undertaking a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind analysis in B.C. on the impacts of hatcheries, and whether they’re meeting their objectives. PSF Science advisor Brian Riddell emphasized the need for limiting hatchery fish to 30 per cent of a stock, and approaching the unique needs of each wild population individually.

“You can’t have everything at once. You can’t substantially increase the numbers without having an effect on the productivity of the natural stock. But you can have a more balanced approach and gradually restore the population but you have to protect the integrity of the local genetic adaptations.”

READ MORE: Canada can lead the way to save sharks from extinction, says fisheries expert

Both the recreational and commercial fishing sectors are vocal supporters of hatchery production. Sport fishing groups, who say they are unfairly targeted with angling restrictions, are also pushing for the tagging of all hatchery chinook so they can more easily target the fish and potentially enjoy more openings.

Joy Thorkelson, president of the United Fishermen And Allied Workers’ Union agreed, adding all species of hatchery fish are vital to the commercial sector.

“If there wasn’t a hatchery there wouldn’t be any fish,” she said. “As habitat has been destroyed there’s been more populations that are at risk, but they’ve been replaced by hatchery fish so we can continue to catch food. All of the major fisheries depend on hatchery fish to varying degrees.”

Government concerns

B.C.’s new parliamentary secretary for fisheries and oceans, Fin Donnelly, has been given a list of mandates to protect and conserve wild salmon populations, including the order to “support innovation in fish hatcheries”.

Aaron Hill, executive director for the Watershed Watch Salmon Society worries this will translate to a robust hatchery program that caters to the economic needs of fisheries, and not the needs of the wild fish themselves.

In a phone interview, Donnelly shared the concern of hatchery genes being passed to wild populations through federally controlled, large-scale hatcheries, but the strategic use of small hatcheries will remain an important component in provincial efforts to rebuild stocks.

“Community hatcheries and target-based hatcheries—we see it provincially as part of the solution. They play an important role, not just in what they do for salmon rearing, but in education and community engagement.”

The PSF’s scientific review of hatchery impacts will play a critical role in informing the province’s approach, Donnelly added.

The full COSEWIC study will be formally submitted to the environment ministry in the fall of 2021, at which time the Species at Risk Act listing process will begin for the assessed chinook populations.



quinn.bender@blackpress.ca

Chinook salmon protectionFisheries and Oceans Canada

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Real estate sales in the South Okanagan grew by more than any other part of the province in 2020. (Marissa Tiel - Black Press)
South Okanagan hottest real estate market in B.C.

There was over $1 billion in residential sales in 2020

Maggie Fowler, left, and Gabby Friesen of the Keremeos branch of the Royal Canadian Legion receiving monies from the federal government under the Veterans Organizations Emergency Support Fund. (Submitted)
Keremeos Royal Canadian Legion branch receives federal support

The funds are part of $20 million in support to veterans’ organizations across Canada

This now empty restaurant beside the Summerland Waterfront Resort will be turned back to its former glory of Shaughnessy’s Cove. Opening in May. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Summerland waterfront is getting a new restaurant

The now closed Local will be turned back into its former glory of the Shaughnessy’s Cove

Bob MacMillan raises a toast to Robbie Burns at the celebration for the 261st birthday of the Scottish Bard on Saturday, Jan. 18. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Explore Scottish culture with new Penticton television series

The Penticton Scottish Festival’s Exploring Scottish Culture in the Okanagan series debuts Jan. 18

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
115 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths in Interior Health

There are now a total of 4,970 cases in the region

Brett Forsythe battles it out in a game of singles pickleball on ice at Okanagan Training Rink Thursday, Jan. 7 in support of the Vernon Food Bank. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Pickleball play hits the ice in Okanagan

Rivals battle it out in support of the food bank

Deb White, carnival chairwoman, rode in on style Saturday during the parade. (Caitlin Clow - Vernon Morning Star)
Pandemic postpones parade, heart of Vernon Winter Carnival

Interior Health says no to one of B.C.’s only winter parades

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Phase 4 of the Kicking Horse Canyon Project is on track, despite COVID-19 and the recent provincial election. (Government of BC photo)
Kicking Horse Canyon Phase 4 closures announced

The first major closures are expected to occur starting on April 12 until May 14

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

The municipality of Summerland is considering a 1.65 per cent property tax increase for 2021. The increase is lower than tax increases in previous years. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Summerland taxes expected to rise by 1.65%

Increases also forecast for Summerland utility rates

Megan Freedman’s music video for Perfect was shot at the Lindon House on Ethel Street. (Perfect - Megan Freedman)
Kelowna musician’s anti-bullying anthem receives international award

The music video was shot at Kelowna’s Lindon House

Forestry companies in B.C. agree to abide by the cedar protocols based on traditional laws of the First Nation members of the Nanwakolas Council. (Photo courtesy, Nanwakolas Council)
Landmark deal sees B.C. forest firms treat big cedars like a First Nation would

Western Forest Products, Interfor among companies to adapt declaration drafted by Nanwakolas Council

Lindsay Palmateer, a Salmon Arm mother of six, succumbed to her injuries after a serious crash Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, south of Enderby. (Contributed)
Salmon Arm mother of 6 remembered following fatal Highway 97A crash

GoFundMe campaign exceeds goal already for family involved in deadly crash near Enderby

Most Read