Salmon Outlook for 2019

DFO has released its Preliminary 2019 Salmon Outlook.

The Outlook provides information on the forecasted stock status for 2019 across BC’s coast and for all species of Pacific Salmon (pink, chum, sockeye, coho and Chinook).

The outlook is considered preliminary and there is considerable uncertainty in environmental conditions and returns per spawner for most populations.

Read the full report or listen and watch to the webinar including a presentation from DFO’s State of the Salmon Program that looks at broad scale environmental conditions over the past generation that may influence salmon returns in 2019.

Federal government announces new measures for killer whale protection

The National Post, October 31, 2018

VANCOUVER — The federal government wants to create new ocean sanctuaries in British Columbia as part of an additional $61.5 million it is spending to protect endangered killer whales.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Wednesday the government also wants to create new areas of critical habitat off the west coast of Vancouver Island for southern resident killer whales.

The protected areas of Swiftsure in the Juan de Fuca Strait between Vancouver Island and Washington state, and Le Perouse Banks off Tofino will be areas that the whales can call home, he said.

For the full story visit the National Post website.

Bureaucrats express concern about BC salmon stock tracking

Original story in the Globe and Mail, October 14

Available online here.

Rick Collins/The Globe and Mail

Senior public servants in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are worried the department has lost the ability to keep track of salmon species other than sockeye – including the Chinook critical to the survival of the endangered southern resident killer whale.

In the July letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, area directors in B.C. expressed “collective concerns with the continued under-resourcing of salmon stock assessment programs.”

Area directors wrote that they appreciate that under-resourcing is not simply because of reduced science funding in recent years, but the result of “eroded regional funding” from various sources over the past 15 years.

“The regional ability to meet well-established core salmon assessment programs is no longer possible with allocated funding,” said the letter. Recently, there have been concerns about dismal returns for Chinook salmon on the Fraser River, raising new concerns for the endangered southern resident killer whales that rely on these fish for their survival.

The perilous state of the whales was also a significant factor in the decision by the Federal Court of Appeal on Aug. 30 to halt the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

Carmel Lowe, the regional science director for the department, was the recipient of the letter. She said since the letter was written, the department has committed to spending an extra $4-million on its monitoring responsibilities. That would bring its budget this year up to approximately $11.2-million for salmon stock assessment, about $1-million more than in each of the past four years.

“We have secured or anticipate having secured the funding required to allow all of the priority assessment programs to be undertaken,” Ms. Lowe said.

In an e-mail exchange subsequent to the interview, Ms. Lowe said internal and external sources of funds for salmon stock assessment have varied over the years, with declines in, for example, Pacific Salmon Treaty implementation funds, but increases in other sources of funding such as for implementing the recommendations of the Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River.

Still, the letter makes plain that the authors are concerned about dwindling resources over more than a dozen years, combined with increasing responsibilities.

Ms. Lowe said the department lacks the resources to “go out and assess every fish,” but, rather prioritizes. That means a focus on Fraser River sockeye, given Indigenous interest in the fish and their higher market value, and Chinook given the dependence of killer whales on them.

In May, the federal government announced a reduction of roughly one third in the harvest of Chinook and closured fishing in some key whale foraging areas after declaring that the southern resident killer whales face an imminent threat to their survival. The federal government has acknowledged that lack of prey is one of the critical factors affecting the whales’ recovery.

A spokesman for the First Nations Fisheries Council of B.C., which works with and on behalf of B.C. First Nations to protect First Nations fisheries rights and title, said he was not surprised by the area directors’ letter.

“I think it’s something that those who work with fisheries here in B.C. [have] all expected and known,” council operations manager Janson Wong said in an interview.

The result, he said, is that DFO is often “guessing” about what returns and spawning might be.

“A lack of data means a lack of good management,” Mr. Wong said.

Cohen Response Status Update – October 2018

Announced during the International Year of the Salmon event on October 11 in Vancouver, a new update on the Cohen Commission recommendations has been released. See details below.

In 2009, Canada established the Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River (Cohen Commission) to investigate the decline of sockeye salmon stocks. While the final report of the Cohen Commission, The Uncertain Future of Fraser River Sockeye, released in October 2012, did not find any “smoking gun” or single factor leading to decreased Pacific salmon stocks, it did make 75 recommendations. The Government of Canada, including Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), as well as the Province of British Columbia (BC), have now taken actions to address all 75 of these recommendations (see Table 1 below).

Wild salmon are important to the Government of Canada, and through its actions, DFO continues to protect and rebuild the iconic and keystone Pacific salmon species in collaboration with partners for the benefit of the people of Canada and Canada’s marine, coastal and terrestrial ecosystems. DFO has reviewed each recommendation to ensure that the department is doing all that it can, within its mandate and resources, to address the health and long-term sustainability of Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks, as well as wild Pacific salmon more broadly, but there remains more that can be done. Previous updates of actions taken were provided in August 2016 and September 2017. This final status report provides updated information on actions taken over the past year under the 5 themes of Wild Salmon Policy (WSP), fisheries management, habitat, aquaculture, and science, with a more detailed summary of DFO’s response to all 75 recommendations over the past 3 years included as an annex.

Although this is the final Cohen Response status update, the governments of Canada and British Columbia recognize that acting on many of the recommendations is an ongoing, incremental task. Going forward, ongoing work on many of the Cohen recommendations will continue, particularly across several key areas, such as salmon stock assessment, health status assessment, habitat protection and restoration, precautionary approach to salmon aquaculture, and fisheries management. Many commitments to ongoing action are also reflected in the Wild Salmon Policy 2018-2022 Implementation Plan which outlines specific activities and approaches that will be led by the department over the next 5 years towards restoring and maintaining healthy and diverse Pacific salmon populations and their habitats.

For more details on the October 2018 update visit Fisheries and Oceans Canada website.

Wild Salmon Policy 2018 to 2022 Implementation Plan

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has released the final version of the Wild Salmon Policy 2018 to 2022 Implementation Plan.

Message from the minister:

As Canada’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, it is my pleasure to present the Wild Salmon Policy 2018-2022 Implementation Plan. This Plan does not focus on actions taken, but rather represents Canada’s plan forward and commitment over the next five years towards continuing to restore and maintain wild Pacific salmon populations and their habitats.

When Canada’s Policy for Conservation of Wild Pacific Salmon was released in 2005, it was considered a ground-breaking document developed over five years of consultations with Canadians. It put a new priority on conserving the rich biological diversity of Pacific salmon, while supporting the sustainable use of one of Canada’s cherished natural resources – wild Pacific salmon.

Thirteen years later, salmon science and conservation work has been advanced, the goals and objectives of the policy remain pertinent, and the passion of Canadians is stronger than ever. The need to focus increase on this important keystone species continues as we face changing ocean and freshwater habitat conditions, less predictable returns and declines in some stocks.

We must find ways to continue to safeguard the genetic diversity of wild salmon and maintain habitat and ecosystem integrity; this is critical to both ensuring their conservation and continuing to provide opportunities for economic benefits that Pacific salmon generates for many Canadians – including BC and Yukon First Nations, commercial and recreational fishers and many small communities. I am committed to working with the BC and Yukon governments to enhance and deepen our collaboration going forward to protect Pacific salmon and salmon habitat.

I would like to thank the hundreds of dedicated Canadians who participated in our consultations in 2016 and 2017 and who provided valuable feedback in person or in writing. Fisheries and Oceans Canada has listened to the comments and considered all the recommendations in building this Plan. My Department is fully committed to the Pacific Wild Salmon Policy, and I am confident that by working with our dedicated partners, including collaboration with the government of BC and First Nations on an integrated strategy, we will secure a brighter future for wild Pacific salmon.

Full report here:

Will new fisheries minister respect salmon science?

Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson should support changes to the way his department treats the science around salmon.

Policy Options, October 4

by Stan Proboszcz and Craig Orr

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffled several cabinet positions in July, including the fisheries portfolio. Jonathan Wilkinson, MP for North Vancouver, BC, is now the first West Coast member of Parliament to hold that position in 16 years. Promptly after assuming the posting, Wilkinson publicly committed “to a science-based approach to addressing issues relating to restoring salmon stocks.”

While the Minister’s statement is laudable, he has inherited a portfolio (Fisheries and Oceans Canada, or DFO) that many believe is beset with problems around how science is interpreted and applied. Using salmon farming as a case study, we provide examples that suggest there are serious concerns with DFO’s use of science and its response to external peer-reviewed scientific research. It is imperative that the Minister recognize and rectify these problems promptly, if he truly is committed to a science-based approach to salmon management and conservation. A science-based approach implies enacting policy that is based on rigorous scientific studies, and adjusting practices and policies as new scientific evidence emerges.

PRV as a threat to wild salmon

In 2011, during the Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River, it was revealed that piscine orthoreovirus (PRV), a pathogen causing havoc in farmed salmon in Europe, is also present in British Columbia. Subsequent research identified PRV as the causative agent for a disease in farmed salmon known as heart and skeletal muscle inflammation. More recently it was revealed that wild salmon sampled near BC fish farms had high incidences of positive tests for the virus and that the presence of the virus in wild salmon may impede their ability to migrate upstream to spawn. Another 2018 study concluded that PRV can cause disease in chinook salmon.

Farmed salmon in British Columbia start in land-based hatcheries and are later transferred to open-net pens in the ocean. It was recently discovered that many hatchery-farmed salmon tested positive for PRV, and two parallel legal challenges were launched trying to stop the transfer of virus-positive fish to the ocean, due to the risk to wild salmon.

The looming possibility of a court-ordered stop to the stocking of farmed salmon has apparently prompted a new type of response by DFO staff, in the form of a document called “Rapid Science Response.” The Rapid Science Response on PRV was produced by DFO staff, and it concluded that the published evidence that there was more than a minimal risk to BC chinook salmon was “unsubstantiated.”

The Rapid Science Response is not peer-reviewed science — it is not vetted by independent experts or published as a rebuttal in a peer-reviewed journal. Nor did the response receive input from the senior DFO scientist leading the genomics work on PRV, as detailed in a letter by a principal investigator on the Strategic Salmon Health Initiative.

DFO aquaculture research programs

DFO’s history of salmon farming promotion is another source of potentially weak science policy. The department’s Program for Aquaculture Regulatory Research (PARR) is purportedly designed to increase our scientific knowledge about aquaculture, thus informing regulatory decision-making and policy development. Between 2008 and 2017, DFO spent $4 million on salmon farming-related research (on parasitic lice, pathogens and benthic habitat) in the Pacific region in this program (figure 1). Counting provincial and other federal dollars, a total of over $5 million was provided for research related to salmon farming by PARR in the Pacific region.

But what does this research achieve? Nearly $1.7 million was spent on research on parasitic lice alone, yet we are not aware of any resultant changes in the regulation of lice on fish farms. In contrast, numerous studies by academics and NGOs have identified parasitic lice from farmed salmon as a threat to wild salmon, mainly because of the link between the lice and decreases in wild salmon productivity. This suggests the need for regulatory changes.

The Aquaculture Collaborative Research and Development Program(ACRDP) is another DFO research initiative geared to “improve the competitiveness and sustainability of the Canadian aquaculture industry.” The research and development activities that ACRDP pursues are funded partially by the private sector. This arrangement has the potential to foster a conflict of interest that may affect DFO’s scientific objectivity. Due to conflict of interest concerns related to the industry promotion mandate, we think research projects that examine the effects of salmon farms on wild fish should not be housed within ACRDP.

Approximately $4.5 million per year is allocated to ACRDP projects. As DFO aquaculture science is once again being reviewed, this time by an independent expert panel led by Canada’s chief science advisor, Mona Nemer, we question whether taxpayers are getting the best unbiased science from these DFO-managed research programs.

Recommendations

The Minister should commit to making the results of the aquaculture science review public and should apply its findings to improve DFO’s use of science and the use of the precautionary principle. In the absence of scientific certainty, conservation measures should be taken when there is knowledge of a risk of serious or irreversible harm to wild stocks. Academic scientists from outside government and industry should be consulted regularly. There should also be an independent review of DFO salmon farming research programs such as PARR and ACRDP to ensure a lack of industry bias and sound use of funding.

DFO’s Rapid Science Response operates outside the normal scientific process, and Wilkinson, as a minister who publicly commits to science-based approaches, should scrap it.

Finally, the recommendations of the 2012 Cohen Commission should be implemented immediately to protect wild stocks. Among other things, the commission called for the prompt removal of salmon farms from the Discovery Islands region of BC if it is determined that they pose more than a minimal risk to wild salmon. The recent chinook salmon study determined exactly that.

Sound risk management of our natural resources should be underpinned by science. Yet Canada’s own fisheries and oceans department appears to actively promote uncertainty and downplay the impacts of salmon farms on wild salmon, via viruses and parasites. Government research programs on the effects of salmon farms have resulted in no meaningful changes to regulations to protect wild salmon in BC, perhaps due to underlying industry promotion objectives. The recent non-peer-reviewed assertions by certain DFO staff denying the link between viruses and disease in chinook salmon raise concerns about conservation, but they could also create uncertainty about the Minister’s commitment to a “science-based approach to addressing issues relating to restoring salmon stocks.”

DFO releases Final 2018-2019 Integrated Fisheries Management Plans

Today the Department of Fisheries and Oceans released the final versions of the Northern and Southern Integrated Fisheries Management Plans (IFMPs). These documents contain information on the management approaches and decision guidelines for all species, management unites and major fishery areas.

Northern IFMP Letter 2018.

For the full IFMPs:

North Coast IFMP

South Coast IFMP