NEWS RELEASE · 3rd June 2010
A landmark study published today in the prestigious journal Nature could hold the key to the survival of the Skeena River salmon fishery.
The study, based on the sockeye salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska, found that maintaining
diverse salmon populations stabilizes the fisheries that depend on them, in the same way a
diverse investment portfolio buffers against financial ups and downs.
“This study provides a solid basis for changing the way we manage wild salmon here in the
Skeena,” said Greg Knox, executive director of SkeenaWild Conservation Trust. “It shows
that if we want a stable fishing economy we need to protect smaller stocks because they
could become strong producers down the road.”
“Protecting and rebuilding smaller stocks also protects the fishing industry and DFO from
future Species at Risk listings and legal action from First Nations,” said Knox.
The study, by Dr. Daniel Schindler and Dr. Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington, is
based on 50 years of fisheries data for Bristol Bay sockeye. It found that without its current
population diversity, the Bristol Bay sockeye fishery would be forced to close ten times more
frequently – once every two to three years rather that once every 25 years.
In the Skeena, the commercial sockeye fishery has been closed for three of the past twelve years due to poor returns and concerns over weak stocks. “This suggests the effects of reduced salmon population diversity are evident in the Skeena, and that’s a major concern,” said Knox.
Knox said artificial enhancement in the Babine watershed has decreased the Skeena’s stock diversity. “Babine Sockeye enhancement has boosted production of this one stock, providing an incentive to harvest at rates other co-migrating stocks can’t withstand, and a disincentive to rebuild wild stocks,” said Knox.
Historically non-Babine sockeye made up between 30 and 40 percent of the Skeena’s total production, but today they only make up 12 percent, with many of these stocks at risk of extinction.
“If we want to rebuild the Skeena’s stock portfolio, we need to shift from large mixed-stock marine fisheries to more selective locations, and make sure we are protecting a diversity of salmon habitat,” said Knox.
Even within the Babine watershed, the Skeena’s largest sockeye producer, there are signs of decreased diversity. “Recently, we’ve seen very low returns to many wild Babine populations,” said Knox, “the enhanced spawning channel populations are also seeing dramatic fluctuations, with low returns and disease outbreaks becoming more common.”
“We knew maintaining diverse salmon stocks was in the best interest of First Nations, anglers, and ecological health,” said Knox. “What this study clearly shows is that it’s also critical for the long-term health and survival of the commercial fishery.”
SkeenaWild Conservation Trust hopes the evidence presented in the study will help compel DFO and the Provincial government to take action to protect habitat and restore salmon stock diversity in the Skeena.