Media Release: More Fraser sockeye populations in trouble than previously thought

New Fisheries and Oceans report identifies serious state of salmon but offers no solutions

For Immediate Release
October 3, 2011


VANCOUVER – Fraser River sockeye salmon are in worse trouble than previously thought, according to a lengthy draft report by federal fisheries scientists recently entered into evidence at the Cohen Commission of Inquiry. The report examined the current status of 32 genetically distinct populations of Fraser sockeye, also known as “conservation units”. The scientists found that eight populations are already extinct or nearly extinct. Of the 24 remaining populations, at least 7 appear to be below their lower benchmarks for abundance, or in the “red zone”, meaning they may be at risk of extinction, and only 4 were clearly in the “green zone”. The scientists were not able to fully assess four of the stocks due to a lack of data.

Despite the ominous findings in the 181-page report, necessary measures to protect the salmon are not being put in place, according to the David Suzuki Foundation, Watershed Watch Salmon Society, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, and Raincoast Conservation Foundation.The groups are calling on Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield to initiate recovery plans for the stocks at risk, as required under the federal government’s Wild Salmon Policy.

“This report is very sobering,” said Watershed Watch biologist Aaron Hill. “For reasons that are still not clear, we were blessed with a banner sockeye return in 2010. But the overall trend is down, and we can’t let healthy returns to just a few Fraser tributaries distract us from the plight that most Fraser sockeye populations are now facing.”

Conservationists are criticizing the report for failing to assign definitive status to the various sockeye populations, even though it shows the sockeye populations to be extinct or deep into the “red zone”. Pacific salmon populations, or “conservation units”, are supposed to be categorized as being in red, yellow or green zones under the Wild Salmon Policy, depending on the health of the stocks. Yet, even though the policy has been public since 2005, not one conservation unit has been categorized.

“The government must get on with developing recovery plans for populations at risk, immediately addressing threats such as overfishing, habitat destruction and open net-cage aquaculture.” said David Suzuki Foundation biologist Jeffery Young. “Fortunately there are workable solutions to these problems, but implementing them will require strong recommendations for the Cohen Commission, and leadership from Ottawa.”

“Maintaining salmon biodiversity by protecting all of these distinct populations is critical to ensuring the long-term viability and productivity of Pacific salmon, as well as reducing the year-to-year variability in returns,” said SkeenaWild executive director Greg Knox, adding, “We must recover salmon populations at risk if we are to improve the sustainability and productivity of salmon fisheries.”

For more information, see the associated backgrounder.

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For more information, contact:

Jodi Garwood, Communications Specialist, David Suzuki Foundation, (604) 732-4228. ext. 1281

Jeffery Young, Aquatic Biologist, David Suzuki Foundation, (604) 764-6142

Aaron Hill, Ecologist, Watershed Watch Salmon Society, (250) 818-0054

Greg Knox, Executive Director, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, (250) 615-1990

Misty MacDuffee, Biologist, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, (250) 818-2136

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