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Canada sees shock salmon glut

4 September 2010 No Comment

Some 34 million of the fish are thronging British Columbia’s Fraser River.

Kate Larkin

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Sockeye salmon have been in decline for the past 20 years in the Fraser River.Stuart Westmorland/CORBIS

It’s the biggest run of sockeye salmon in British Columbia since 1913. Some 34 million fish are thronging the Fraser River as they return from the sea to spawn, federal regulators announced on 31 August. The event, following two decades of decline in salmon-run numbers, is taking fisheries scientists by surprise — and causing frustration across the fishing industry, which is largely unable to access the windfall.

One reason is that fisheries have been slow to open, unable to balance environmental and economic demands in the face of sheer fish numbers. And with about 80% of the salmon concentrated in one lake system, the Shuswap, the riches are poorly distributed. Because fishing quotas tend to be allocated geographically, a fisherman in a different part of the river system might be unable to benefit from the influx.

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Over a century's worth of data shows immense variety in total abundance, including the recent decline and sudden peak. Pacific Salmon Commission

The cost of all this could be high — a loss of between 5 million and 10 million fish in potential catch, according to Carl Walters at the University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre in Vancouver.

This year’s unexpected boom has led to even more intense speculation about the state of the sockeye population. The 2009 salmon run reportedly saw only around 1.5 million fish returning to the river. The Canadian government’s Cohen Commission, established in 2009, is now looking at the current state of the sockeye population and potential causes of the decline. The commission aims to make recommendations for the future sustainability of salmon stocks by mid-2011.

Given the existence of models that predict fluctuations in salmon populations, why has this year’s glut come as such a shock? Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the government agency in Ottawa, Ontario, that runs the models and regulates the salmon fishing industry, has been criticized for failing to predict it. Read more…

Source: Nature.com