The shocking loss of Fraser River sockeye salmon is the equivalent of being told that Ontario is full of cities and some 11 million people, only to go and find merely Mississauga.

This year’s sockeye run was expected to be more than 10 million, and only about a million have returned. This debilitating absence of the fish that symbolizes the soul of B.C. decimates commercial fishermen’s livelihoods and leaves many First Nations without one of their most important foods.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) officials call this tragic disappearance a “mystery.” Without doubt, the science behind fisheries is complex: Numerous environmental conditions and human activities influence how many fish survive and reproduce.

Looming in our minds are the lost Atlantic cod stocks on Canada’s east coast. Over a decade after the cod fishery’s closure, stocks have not recovered.

The science is always complex, but some likely contributors to the declines are clear enough for concern. Human activities, particularly salmon farms, are degrading wild salmon populations. Farms could be situated out of the migration routes of wild salmon, so that when juvenile salmon swim to the oceans, they don’t become infected with farm-derived diseases and sea lice.

If the DFO lets this summer’s shocking loss turn into a perennial tragedy of miniscule salmon runs, they’ll never be forgiven.

Sockeye salmon
• These salmon feed the entire Fraser drainage with ocean nutrients that will grow trees that stabilize our climate and produce oxygen.

• In 2007, scientists counted up to 28 sea lice on each juvenile sockeye salmon.

– Kai Chan is an assistant professor and Canada Research Chair at the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability (IRES) at UBC;

Latest From ...