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

Gas prices rise 8 cents a litre at some Agassiz pumps

Petroleum analyst Dan McTeague says the spike is here to stay

Second snowfall warning issued for Coquihalla Highway

Another 20 cm of snow is expected to fall by early Friday

FVRD emergency plan only ‘partially meeting’ expectations, says auditor

Regional district says they are already working on shortfalls in emergency management

High death rate at Abbotsford Regional Hospital

Abbotsford has the worst-performing large hospital in B.C. on key safety measure

Vis stresses need for unity after Conservative leader resigns

Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP said he was shocked by Andrew Scheer’s announcement

Agassiz’s Dickens Tea sells out for seventh year

The annual holiday event saw visitors enjoy high tea and historic talks

‘British Columbians are paying too much’: Eby directs ICBC to delay rate application

Attorney General David Eby calls for delay in order to see how two reforms play out

VIDEO: Octopus, bald eagle battle after bird ‘bites off more than it can chew’ in B.C. waters

B.C. crew films fight between the two feisty animals in Quatsino off north Vancouver Island

Couple who bought $120k banana duct-taped to wall say artwork will be ‘iconic’

Pair compared it to Warhol’s ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans,’ which was initially ‘met with mockery’

Race to replace Andrew Scheer could be a crowded one

Many familiar faces, such as Maxime Bernier, Jason Kenney, Doug Ford and Kevin O’Leary, have said no

National cold case hunters take on search for missing man last seen in B.C.

Kristofer Couture’s car was found at Chilliwack trailhead in January but there’s been no sign since

Owner surrenders dogs chained up outside among scrap metal, garbage to BC SPCA

Shepherd-breed dogs were living in ‘deplorable conditions.’

B.C. plane crash victim identified; witnesses describe ‘explosion’

He was a flight instructor, charter pilot and owned an airstrip before leaving Alberta

Most Read