Salmon Stocks in Trouble in the Pacific Northwest

“We are experiencing the consequences of not placing priority on the protection of this valuable ocean resource. It takes great courage to act in the interest of the environment over commerce, but the protection of our wild salmon is now an economic issue.” - Jean-Michel Cousteau

Between nine and eleven million sockeye salmon are missing from the Fraser River in Vancouver, Canada.   Out of the 10.6 to 13 million fish that were expected to return to the river this year after migrating to the ocean to grow, only 1.7 million have arrived.   What happened to all of these fish?

Salmon stocks are in trouble in the Pacific Northwest and the impacts of this disaster could be severe.   Salmon are the lifeblood of the Pacific food web and they provide powerful linkages between marine and terrestrial systems. They hatch upstream in rivers, migrate to the ocean to grow and return to their natal streams to procreate and die.   Their final gift to these areas is the nutrients from their bodies that are recycled back into the living system.  
 
Many major predators also rely on salmon for food such as eagles, bears and killer whales.    In fact, up to 70 percent of the diet of southern resident killer whales living in the Puget Sound area is made up salmon.   Last year the West Coast of the U.S. was closed to salmon fishing after the Chinook salmon failed to return to the Sacramento River system.   The killer whales shifted their food source to the salmon from the Fraser River system.   This year, with only a 10 percent return of the Fraser River salmon, these killer whales may have trouble finding any food. The Ocean Futures Society team had a chance to interact with some of these majestic creatures during our film “Call of the Killer Whale.”   These same populations are also suffering from high levels of contamination from industrial chemicals that are persistent and magnify up the food chain.   With this additional food shortage, the killer whales could be in real danger.   And killer whales are not the only ones to suffer from the loss of these fish, people are suffering as well.  
 
When we protect the ocean, we protect ourselves and when the ocean suffers, so do we.   Last year the collapse of salmon fisheries in California and Oregon required $170 million dollars in disaster relief for those dependent on the fishery for their livelihood.   It is unclear how much the scarcity of salmon will cost the fishing industry in Vancouver; however, of particular concern are the many native people who live along the river and depend on salmon for sustenance.   How did we reach this dire situation?

There are many possible reasons why we may be seeing this decline in salmon. Alexandra Morton, biologist with the Raincoast Research Society and featured in our film “Call of the Killer Whale,” has been warning the Canadian government of the potential for the Fraser salmon population to collapse due to sea lice infestations from open net farmed Atlantic salmon.   The wild salmon are exposed to sea lice, viruses and bacteria from the farmed salmon that are treated with antibiotics and delousing chemicals. Of 350 Fraser sockeye salmon surveyed by Ms. Morton in 2007 (the same generation that hasn’t returned this year) some had up to 28 sea lice each.   The parasites weaken the fish and lessen their chances of surviving their two years at sea.

Additionally, to produce one pound of farmed salmon requires over 2.5 pounds of wild fish, from smaller species like anchovies and herring!   This places additional pressure on these already strained fisheries. What can you do? Don’t eat open-net farmed salmon!   If you eat seafood, choose wisely. Please consult this good resource for helping you to make choices that are better for you and the ocean: www.seafoodwatch.com
 
The salmon populations in California and Oregon are being affected by commercial development, logging and the eight dams that block the movement of fish upstream on the Snake and Columbia rivers. Next month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) must notify the federal court about what it plans to do to recover the twelve endangered or threatened salmon and steelhead species in the Pacific Northwest.   The two previous plans from prior administrations have been rejected because they did not provide enough protection for the salmon.  
 
We are experiencing the consequences of not placing priority on the protection of this valuable ocean resource.   It takes great courage to act in the interest of the environment over commerce, but the protection of our wild salmon is now an economic issue.   It is affecting peoples’ lives in addition to the balance of the ecosystem. We can not afford to delay taking action any longer; we just hope it is not too late.

For More Information, please visit:

Jean-Michel Cousteau Ocean Adventures:
Call of the Killer Whale

Alexandra Morton's Reseach
Raincoast Research Society