86% of B.C. residents show high levels of concern about declining salmon stocks

July 23, 2021

86% of B.C. residents show high levels of concern about declining salmon stocks

VANCOUVER, B.C. – A poll conducted by Insights West and Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF) shows that the decline in Pacific salmon stocks is one of the most pressing environmental concerns for British Columbians. The majority of BC residents show high levels of concern about declining salmon stocks (86%), higher than climate change (76%) and single-use plastics (75%).

“These findings affirm that a large cross section of British Columbians care deeply about the state of Pacific salmon and appreciate the complex risk-factors contributing to serious declines of many salmon populations. They also show that people understand that Pacific salmon need our help urgently and that we must do everything we can to advance coordinated recovery and habitat restoration plans,” says Michael Meneer, CEO and President, Pacific Salmon Foundation.

When BC residents are asked about the state of BC’s wild Pacific salmon population, the vast majority understand the significant risk that they face. While only 5% believe wild Pacific salmon face imminent extinction, the vast majority feel they are either significantly at risk/significantly declining (41%), or at risk (40%).

The public is right, many Pacific salmon populations are in trouble, and they need our help.

About half of the Pacific salmon populations are in some state of decline, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. There are myriad challenges encountered by Pacific salmon during their unique lifecycles that encompass both freshwater and marine environments. But Pacific salmon are resilient and many of these challenges facing our iconic salmon can be tackled by humans right now. With a shared vision, major funding, communication, and coordinated action, Pacific salmon can recover.

PSF believes there are three major levers that humans can pull right now: Habitat, Harvest/Fishing and Hatcheries.

Habitat: When asked about their level of agreement on factors impacting Pacific salmon, British Columbians agree that stream habitat destruction (83%), climate change (72%) and the impacts of climate change on salmon habitat (72%) are among the top issues.

Vital salmon habitat from freshwater streams to the open ocean has been impacted by 150 years of industrial development and these impacts are now being compounded by climate change. We must repair what we can.

Salmon that spend a longer amount of time in freshwater are struggling. PSF is actively funding community partners who are restoring spawning habitat, replanting native vegetation along key salmon streams and undertaking research into migration impediments. This work must increase, prioritizing habitat for high-risk species and introducing coordinated land-water management plans that include salmon.

Warmer ocean temperatures are making things worse for our salmon in marine habitat too. Ocean temperature is on the rise and warmer water is not good for the food web that salmon rely upon for survival.  While we can’t actively change conditions in the open ocean, there are actions we can take to support adaptation. Major investment is needed to restore estuaries and critical kelp and eelgrass habitats, along with “greening” of our shorelines to nurture habitat for juvenile salmon and forage fish like herring.

Harvest/Fishing: People chose over-fishing (78%) as a reason believed to be contributing to declining salmon stocks with 18% citing it as the top concern. While fishing is often referenced in the news, it is important to note that during the past 20 years British Columbia has seen increased fisheries restrictions based on conservation, yet the state of Pacific salmon has not improved. This has been a source of loss and frustration for people and communities that depend on fisheries. Fishing restrictions are not the silver bullet.

There is need for more collaborative research and catch monitoring programs with fisheries, exploration of more traditional selective fishing practices, consultations with First Nations and their knowledge, as essential to support a sustainable future of salmon harvest. Enhanced data collection and monitoring will ensure we have reliable information across all salmon populations to better inform harvest practice. Fisheries entities like the Sport Fishing Institute, Sport Fishing Advisory Board, and First Nations Fisheries Council are essential contributors in plans to restore Pacific salmon.

Hatcheries: Less than half of British Columbians are concerned with hatcheries (48%). Hatcheries can have positive benefits including supporting the rebuilding of weak populations, supporting salmon stock assessment programs, producing fish for harvest, and supporting education and awareness in local communities. However, hatcheries can also introduce risks such as changes to natural genetics, increased harvest pressure on weak stocks, and increased competition for food and habitat in the natural ecosystem.

The enormous number of hatchery fish that are now entering the Pacific Ocean from all international hatchery production is an area of serious concern that requires focused study and international actionHatchery produced salmon from Canada represent only 6% of hatchery salmon in the Pacific Ocean but enormous production of pink and chum salmon by Alaska, Russia and Japan are potentially contributing to major food competition for Canadian wild and hatchery-reared salmon.

Research is underway by PSF to determine optimal hatchery effectiveness, allowing for continued conservation and enhancement of stocks while maintaining genetic diversity of wild stocks and minimal competition for survival.

Overall, 92% of B.C. residents believe we must protect wild Pacific salmon stocks as we have an ethical obligation to protect endangered species and because they are an important part of B.C. culture.

To be sure, positive steps are being taken with major new investments approaching $1 Billion by the federal and provincial governments in coordination with Indigenous nations and stakeholders like Pacific Salmon Foundation. The decision to transition from open-net-pen farming of Atlantic salmon in our B.C. coastal waters is another major step forward — supported by PSF research. Recently, the Canadian government mandated all open-net fish farms be transitioned to closed containment pens by 2025, and the vast majority (75%) of BC residents support this decision, according to the Insights West poll.

“We must take every step in our control now as many climate-change related trends will make things more difficult for many salmon populations in the years ahead.  There is still time to moderate and mitigate the effects to advance ongoing Pacific salmon recovery.  This demands urgency for Pacific salmon and for the 130+ species, including grizzlies, orcas and eagles, that depend on Pacific salmon that we cannot lose on our watch,” says Michael Meneer.

The Pacific Salmon Foundation is the independent, thoughtful leader and catalyst in conservation, restoration, and enhancement of Pacific salmon and their ecosystems through strategic partnerships and leveraged use of resources. www.psf.ca


Media Contact:

Elayne Sun, Communications Manager