Friday, November 15, 2019

Historical notes from last century chart the path for current Pacific salmon crisis

Journals and fish scales dating back to the early 1900's 
may hold the answer to rebuilding Pacific salmon stocks
(photo from Maclean's article of November 13)

A fascinating article in the current online flow from Maclean's Magazine takes a look at the ongoing concerns over Pacific Salmon, making use of material from over 100 years ago from the canneries of the North Coast for the review.

Recently discovered notebooks including some from Port Essington, weave the narrative of a fishery that has seen many ups and downs, the journals which range in time from from 1912 to 1948 provide some invaluable data and anecdotal observations to provide for a much wider portrait of the industry that once ruled the North Coast.

The Skeena and other waters of the Northwest
from a report on salmon genetics
Among the material, a collection of scales from over 65,000 sockeye gathered each year as part of a monitoring program on the Skeena River system, which is described as one of the richest collections of fish scales in the world.

As the Maclean's article explains, the scales provide a living history of the salmon cycle and deliver the verdict on the health of the stocks through the decades of study.

The trail of the journals and fish scales went cold in the 1990's, with the books only recently discovered in a storage office at the Pacific Salmon Commission in Vancouver.

With the newly discovered data in hand, Michael Price who is conducting Ph.D studies in biological sciences at SFU and a team of researchers delivered a report in August of this year.

Titles Genetics of century of fish scales reveal population patterns of decline, the research document is available from the Conservation Letters open source website.

The detailed report, explores many themes and offers up four hypotheses related to the declines in abundance of the moment, with much to learn from the past.

The final paragraph of their findings offers up the hope that their research may help to inform and assist towards rebuilding plans for the Pacific stocks.

Our analyses demonstrate that wild sockeye salmon in Canada are far more diminished than previously realized, and our results should help inform status evaluations and rebuilding plan discussions for depleted populations by expanding our understanding of their production potential. More generally, our study shows how genetic analyses of historical samples can provide insight into centennial‐scale changes in population abundance and diversity.

The overview from Maclean's notes how the documentation provided for warning signs on the need for conservation methods through those years, but were concerns that did not get picked up on.

The article interviews a number of local observers of the salmon fishery along the Skeena system included in the list is the Hereditary Chief of the Gitanyow Malii, also known as Glen Williams, he notes that there are parallels between the current crisis in the salmon fishery as that which brought the East Coast Cod fishery to a collapse.

He notes that time is fast running out for the Northwest to avoid a similar collapse for the iconic Salmon stocks of the river systems of the region.

Also included for comments from the Northwest were Stu Barnes, chair of the Skeena Fisheries Commission and a member of the executive council of the First Nations Fisheries Council of B.C and Greg Knox of Skeena Wild Conservation Trust

The magazine article also includes a podcast which digs even deeper into the themes and makes for an impressive review of the issues that have many fearing for an industry and a way of life on the North Coast.

You can explore both items here.

For more background on the issues and concerns for the fishery on the North Coast see our archive page here.

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