This article regarding a proposed open-pit mine in AK has a few insights into the Fraser River watershed, including this assertion that could suggest foci for conservation actions:
Mining, pulp mills, agriculture, forestry, roads and other development in the Fraser River watershed all cause water pollution and regular violations of water quality standards for copper, zinc, lead, cadmium, chromium and many other pollutants toxic to salmon.
Above is a link a nice Op-Ed piece by Carl Safina. Below is my response, submitted today to the L.A. Times.
In his 1/24/10 opinion “Save the salmon — and us,” Safina points out that new research says orcas prefer salmon. But the in-press analysis of prey scraps by NOAA’s Brad Hanson is more specific: like humans, the southern resident killer whales’ first choice for a summertime meal is the biggest, fattiest, salmon around — the Fraser River chinook. Along the west coast, the biggest chinook are associated with the biggest river systems (the Fraser in the summer; the Columbia and Sacramento in the winter) because it takes a big, strong fish to swim thousands of kilometers inland (e.g. to Idaho). For the orcas’ sake, we need to prioritize chinook recovery in the biggest rivers.
To keep the orcas visiting the Salish Sea during the summer, we should all be more involved in conserving the chinook (and other salmon) runs of the Fraser river, along with recovering stocks in the rivers of western Washington. We Americans should get more involved in the battle raging in British Columbia between Norwegian salmon farms and advocates of wild Fraser sockeye like Alexandra Morton. Her proposed actions to protect sockeye smolts from diseased farm fish will also help baby chinook on their way to the open Pacific, and thereby ensure future meals for southern residents. Activists can also help the orcas by bolstering conservation efforts in Washington State, like the recent delta restorations in the Skagit and Nisqually rivers, or the removal of Elwha river dams (now starting in 2011 thanks to stimulus funds).
To prevent extinction of orcas we must protect their winter food sources. We need to call our legislators, most importantly the recalcitrant Senators from Washington, to initiate a new approach to salmon management in the Pacific Northwest. The current plan for Columbia salmon is a Bush-era cop-out that parasitized new-NOAA-head Jane Lubchenco like a B.C. sea louse jumps a Fraser sockeye smolt. To recover, the Columbia/Snake salmon need innovative, dramatic action — including dam removal — not the business-as-usual that led to salmon ecosystem collapses first in England and then along the Atlantic seaboard (read “King of Fish” by David Montgomery for historic perspective). The best idea I’ve heard is to place a salmon specialist on the President’s Council on Environmental Quality to mandate and facilitate a new regional collaboration already called for by Congressional leaders from Oregon and Idaho.
One year into the Obama administration is a good time to call for such high-level solutions. We should demand full funding of the recovery plan and research to support it — both of which have been under-funded by ~70% since the southern residents were listed as endangered. Oh, and the word “orca” should be in the next salmon treaty, too, because it appears that they are at the table from California to Alaska — whether human fishers like it or not.
It seems a crisis is emerging on the Fraser River. For those of us in the U.S. working to restore salmon runs, this article provides a glimpse into the complexity of Fraser River management and science (and politics).
Approximately 130 million baby sockeye from the Chilko, Quesnel and other interior river systems — the largest producers of the most valuable commercial stocks on the Fraser system — appear to have vanished during their annual migration to the sea in 2007.
This season’s shortfall in predicted returns of sockeye salmon — fewer than two million of the predicted 10.6 million are now expected to return — actually points to something really troubling, a possible ecological catastrophe on a vast scale somewhere in the lower Fraser or the Strait of Georgia.
Have we so degraded the Fraser that we are now in the early stages of an Atlantic cod scenario for British Columbia’s iconic wild salmon? Is there something else going on in this enormous ecosystem that has implications for us humans who are perched atop the food chain, perhaps more precariously than we like to think?
Most important, why aren’t we talking about this astonishing, colossal event in these broader terms instead of listening to Indian bands, sports anglers and commercial interests squabbling endlessly over the tattered remnants of what should have been a tremendous return while stunned fisheries managers blather about the difficulty of making the predictions they routinely make and try to calculate how many dwindling sockeye it will be OK to kill as by-catch in other fisheries?
Jeff Grout (or the reporter) needs to clarify why they reject the suggestion that sea lice infestation are responsible for this summer’s poor returns!
UBC’s Scott Hinch has studied how ocean and river temperatures affect salmon.
August 27, 2009
Hotter water linked to poor sockeye returns
A UBC fisheries expert’s warning from the 1990s now sounds prophetic with this summer’s poor returns of Fraser River sockeye. UBC professor Scott Hinch predicted 15 years ago that warming sea-surface temperatures due to climate change would result in smaller and less abundant sockeye.
Some 3.3 million Fraser sockeye reached their spawning grounds in 2005. According to the Pacific Salmon Commission, surveys in the Quesnel and Chilko tributaries indicated that about 130 million sockeye smolts moved out to the sea in 2007 for their two-year ocean migration.
What happened to these juveniles?
Jeff Grout, FOC’s salmon resource manager, said he suspects that the fish didn’t survive at expected rates. He rejected any suggestion that fish farms are responsible for poor returns.