Fishery experts are concerned that Chinook salmon have been added to the endangered species list in British Columbia. Of 28 southern groups assessed in the state, only two have been identified as not at risk.
Counting only wild fish, four populations are endangered, which is the next category to extinct. Three more are threatened and one is of special concern. Just one is not at risk, with three others having insufficient data.
With many salmon runs having the lowest returns on record, the federal government is being urged to step up hatchery production. But conservation groups and scientists are warning that hatchery fish will pass on inferior traits and that successive generations could be unfit for the wild.
“Swamping a stream with hatchery genes is not a good recipe for long term survival of the population, unless you are prepared to perpetually keep putting out fish from hatcheries,” said John Reynolds, chairman of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), the body that carried out the assessment.
“That’s not what the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ policy is though. It’s to put wild salmon first,” he told The Mission City Record. The 23 federally-controlled hatcheries release hundreds of millions of juvenile salmon a year. The competition is significant, said Reynolds.
The Pacific Salmon Foundation’s science advisor, Brian Riddell, also stressed the need for limiting hatchery fish to 30% of a stock and for approaching the unique needs of each wild population individually “You can’t substantially increase the numbers without having an effect on the productivity of the natural stock. You can have a more balanced approach and gradually restore the population, but you have to protect the integrity of the local genetic adaptations.”
However, both the recreational and commercial fishing sectors are supporters of hatchery production. Sport fishing groups say they are already targeted with restrictions and are pushing for the tagging of hatchery Chinook so they can more easily target them.