There's no shortage of threats to Pacific wild salmon.
Rising water temperatures as a result of climate change, parasites escaping from B.C. aquaculture operations, overfishing, and a lack of genetic diversity due to habitat destruction have all been cited as concerns over the years.
So in this, the International Year of the Salmon, the B.C. government has decided to finance a major study examining the condition, abundance, and composition of Pacific salmon in the Gulf of Alaska.
The minister of agriculture, Lana Popham, was present at Ballantyne Pier in Vancouver today, offering a bon voyage to the team of scientists.
She was joined by federal fisheries minister Jonathan Wilkinson, who's the Liberal MP for North Vancouver.
"Wild salmon are crucial to the success of B.C.’s economy, the prosperity of coastal communities and the lives, culture and history of Indigenous peoples,” Popham said in a government news release. “We are always looking at ways to protect our wild salmon and this study will provide us with crucial information as we continue to support this important resource for British Columbia.”
Twenty-one researchers from five Pacific-salmon-producing countries are participating in the expedition. The provincial government has contributed $75,000.
“The discoveries that will be made will lead to an understanding of how to be responsible stewards of Pacific salmon in a future of changing ocean ecosystems," organizer Dick Beamish said.
This comes two months after Popham and Premier John Horgan announced an agreement with three First Nations to close salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago off the northern tip of Vancouver Island.
It's a major migratory route for Pacific salmon.
Report last year highlighted the challenges
The 14-member B.C. Wild Salmon Advisory Council prepared a report in September outlining options for preserving West Coast salmon.
It noted that these fish face "a complex set of ever-intensifying pressures from ecosystem changes and from development".
"The challenge in describing the state of wild salmon is the simple fact that there are over 8,000 combinations of species and streams in BC," the report stated. "Resource managers have never 'managed' each of these combinations and have more recently developed the concept of Conservation Units (CUs) under Canada's Policy for Conservation of Wild Pacific Salmon (2005) that aggregates these combinations into 432 'CUs' for BC."
Sockeye, for instance, remain very abundant, according to the report, even though returns in B.C. are down by 33 percent since the mid 1990s. However, they're off a whopping 43 percent on the south coast of B.C.
Pink salmon returns to B.C. have fallen 28 percent since that period, even though they remain the most abundant species. They're only off 24 percent on the south coast.
Chum salmon returns to B.C. are down 45 percent, posting some of the largest declines over the past decade. But they've only dropped by 14 percent on the south coast.
Chinook salmon returns to B.C. have declined by 26 percent, and coho returns to B.C. are off by 21 percent.
"It must also be noted that investment in scientific study and data quality and quantity with respect to wild salmon management has been significantly reduced over the past several years," the report stated. "This fact has contributed to a lack of confidence when reporting the status of salmon in BC and has fueled hard debates among stakeholders about the reliability of data used to make fisheries management decisions."
In its conclusions, the advisory council pointed to the importance of peer-reviewed science, traditional and local knowledge, and ecosystem-based management in addressing these issues.