Skeena River salmon runs in worse shape than previously understood

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      The Skeena River’s annual salmon run still sees strong seasons. But recent years have come with limitations and early prohibitions on fishing on the waterway in B.C.’s northwest.

      Now a genetic study that places contemporary salmon populations in a larger historical context suggests the situation on the Skeena is actually much worse than previously understood.

      In 1913, annual sockeye returns on the Skeena numbered roughly 1.8 million, according to the findings published this month in the journal Conservation Letters.

      One hundred years later, sockeye returns to B.C.’s second-longest river had fallen to about 469,000.

      It’s a reduction of 74 percent. The Skeena’s salmon run is barely a quarter of what it once was.

      "I'm hopeful it's a wake-up call to the rest of the province," Simon Fraser University’s Michael Price, the study’s lead researcher, told CBC News.

      "We've been seeing these warning signs that salmon are diminishing and yet…we continue to make decisions that are not in the best interests of salmon."

      Previous research of salmon populations on the Skeena River were only able to determine population sizes dating back to the 1960s.

      Price and his team used genetic-research tools to discover historical trends in the salmon populations they studied.

      The group’s theory for why the Skeena’s salmon populations have declined over the past century is fisheries’ selectivity. They have said it appears that salmon populations with larger body sizes have declined most significantly, suggesting that selective gill-netting is the likely cause of the trends they’ve observed.