VANCOUVER — Chinook salmon need better protection measures in light of a recommendation by the scientific advisory panel that assesses the status of Canada’s wildlife today that Fraser River chinook should be listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act.
“Today’s announcement shows many populations of wild chinook that migrate through the Fraser River are near total collapse. This just confirms that we need immediate action to protect this ecologically, culturally and economically important salmon,” David Suzuki Foundation senior research scientist Scott Wallace said.
In August, the Foundation called for full marine chinook fisheries closures, with some exceptions, in an effort to protect starving southern resident orcas that depend on chinook as their main prey.
Today’s assessment is based on designatable units, which define specific populations of chinook salmon that are distinct and irreplaceable. Of 16 units, eight were assessed as endangered, four threatened, one of special concern, two data deficient and only one as healthy. Next steps include a process to determine whether chinook will be included under the Species at Risk Act. If they are, it would be the first time a Pacific salmon species has been listed.
“The world’s attention has been focused on the plight of the remaining 74 resident orcas in the Salish Sea that were unable to access their chinook prey,” Wallace said. “Tragically, chinook populations are now also recognized as endangered, making the future of both species tenuous.”
The Foundation is calling on the federal government to immediately prioritize developing science-based recovery plans for the at-risk chinook populations. It is also calling for closures to fisheries that catch southern B.C. chinook. Recovery plans must be completed before it’s possible to identify safe harvest levels for at-risk chinook. Only wild adult chinook that have survived to the point of spawning contain the critical genes necessary to rebuild wild populations that can adapt to a challenging environment. Scientific evidence shows that the use of artificial hatcheries to try to boost chinook numbers presents significant risks to wild chinook and should not be viewed as a solution.
Pacific salmon are the most ecologically, morphologically and behaviourally diverse vertebrate species in Canada, with many thousands of more or less distinctive populations. Salmon are important culturally, ceremonially (especially for Indigenous Peoples), biologically and economically.
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