Woeful Fraser River sockeye run renews debate on fish farms

Record salmon yields are forecast this season along the entire west coast, with one notable exception: the Fraser River.

In fact, the test fishing for the region is appalling and it has reopened the debate about the impact of fish farms that once populated the waters of Discovery Passage.

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“We’ve seen strong runs in 2022, like extraordinary yields in Alaska, Bristol Bay, we’ve seen record runs all the way south of the range in the Columbia,” said BCIT fisheries biologist Marvin Rosenau.

But the situation on the Fraser River is a different story.

Test fisheries predict total numbers will fall by as much as 40 percent, raising hopes of a big sockeye year on the Fraser and likely preventing both commercial and recreational fisheries.

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Rosenau suspects that part of the story about the Fraser is something that happens hundreds of miles away.

“We see a pretty close correlation with the expansion of fish farms in the Discovery Passage area,” he said.

Fraser sockeye returning now are said to have swum out to sea at a time when a number of open fish farms were operating in the Discovery Islands, a route many of the juvenile sockeye followed.

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It is also a place where conservationists have long believed that the fish become infested with sea lice and mouth rot disease.

“I think there’s some good body of evidence to suggest that Fraser Sockeye was at least likely influenced by fish farms,” ​​said Stan Proboszcz, senior scientist at the Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

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Although those farms were removed as part of the federal government’s plan to minimize contact between wild and farmed salmon, debate about the farms’ overall effect continues.

The fish farming industry says multiple studies have made it clear that there is no link.

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“All those reviews have shown no link between salmon farming and wild salmon returns, despite what the media is saying,” said Brian Kingzett, director of science and policy for the BC Salmon Farmers’ Association.

The BC Salmon Farmers’ Association also points out that their farms have been around for a long time, in both high and low sockeye years.

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While critics admit there are likely multiple factors behind this year’s situation, they expect the mystery of the Fraser River’s missing sockeye to become clearer in the coming years when they can count the number of fish that have never encountered farms on their way to the ocean.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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