Babine Lake Sockeye Salmon Nursery Ecosystem Structure, Functioning and Productive Capacity

Babine Lake sockeye salmon comprise the bulk (90%) of Skeena River sockeye captured in Canadian and U.S. waters, and were historically a major bi-lateral economic driver on the North Coast. Any reductions in returns significantly affect fisheries and subsistence in both countries. The recent declines in Babine Lake sockeye salmon production have prompted significant concern from stakeholder groups including the Canadian Commercial Salmon Advisory Board and DFO’s Salmonid Enhancement Program (SEP) as well as Canadian First Nations.
The worrisome trends observed in freshwater survival, and routinely depressed escapements over the past ~20 years, highlight the critical importance of understanding the modern freshwater ecology of Babine Lake sockeye salmon and their nursery habitat. The fundamental ecological changes observed in Babine Lake in 2013 (changes in nutrient availability likely due to climate change, and resultant shifts in the food web) indicate a heightened need for long-term data to assess specific mechanisms of lake change and stock decline, such that informed decisions can be made to guide fisheries resource management, salmon enhancement, and habitat stewardship. As such, the current project consists of lake-wide limnological assessments, surveys of juvenile sockeye abundance, size, feeding ecology, physiological condition and freshwater survival, and an implementation of a spatially-resolved multiple trophic level paleolimnological food web assessment over the last 200 years (or more). 2016 is year 1 of the proposed 3-year program.