Chinook and Coho salmon and steelhead trout abundances have all declined precipitously in recent decades throughout southern British Columbia resulting in numerous ecological, economic, and cultural impacts in the Province. Indeed, unprecedented restrictions on commercial, recreational, and First Nations fisheries and even the poorer health of Southern Resident killer whales have all been linked to recent declines in these species.
Now there is growing consensus that the first year of marine life plays a key role in regulating productivity for juvenile salmon, and that predation, competition, and climate change all contribute to poor salmon and steelhead returns in southern BC, particularly on Vancouver Island. Understanding the mechanisms and relative contributions of the factors that may be limiting Chinook, Coho, and steelhead productivity is a key cultural, economic, and ecological priority in the Province.
Furthermore, as wild salmon and steelhead abundance continues to decline or remain at historic lows, there is growing recognition that traditional hatchery mitigation is not meeting conservation and recovery objectives for wild stocks. For enhancement programs to effectively contribute to both harvest and conservation, the performance of hatchery fish must be similar to that of wild fish.
Recent research conducted during the Pacific Salmon Foundation’s (PSF) Salish Sea Marine Survival Program in the Cowichan River on juvenile Chinook salmon using Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) technology highlighted the importance of critical mortality periods during both the early marine period and the first winter of marine life, and the much lower survival of hatchery-produced salmon relative to wild counterparts. In light of these observations and the need for a much broader assessment, PSF, together with the British Columbia Conservation Foundation (BCCF), applied for and received funding from the BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund to investigate survival bottlenecks throughout freshwater and marine regions of the Salish Sea and Southern BC.
Our goals for this study are to:
Establishing PIT antenna arrays in a number of priority freshwater systems and hatchery facilities, and implementing an extensive juvenile salmon/steelhead PIT tagging program;
Investigating the ecology of juvenile salmon during their first ocean winter;
Utilizing PIT and video technology to electronically monitor recreational fishery catches and better understand predation mortality;
Examining survival, dispersal, mortality mechanisms, and evaluating alternative hatchery strategies as conservation tools for juvenile and adult steelhead.
Funding for the project is provided by the BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund, a contribution program funded jointly between Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Province of BC.