Category: 2015

Nass Area Coastal Coho Escapement Project

The Nass Area Coastal Coho Escapement Project will improve escapement data and further enable fishery managers to more accurately estimate harvests of this important species in commercial, recreational, and First Nation fisheries. The data will also improve the quality of information available to inform management decisions and aid in the sustainability of Nass Area Coho stocks in the future. This will be become increasingly important as industrial pressures within the marine areas of the Nass Area continue to mount due to mining, hydro-electricity, port development at Stewart, shipping, and pipelines. Improving our understanding of the abundance for Nass Area Coastal Coho stocks is imperative for understanding and mitigating the potential effects of these development pressures on Nass Area Coastal Coho.



Southeast Alaska Coastal Monitoring

Alaska stocks of pink (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) and Chinook salmon (O. tshawytscha) spend large portions of their life histories in marine waters within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and beyond the 200-mile EEZ of the coastal States. However, the strength of salmon year-classes is often set during the early overwintering phases of immatures or during the nearshore seaward migration phase of juveniles. Thus, the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC), Auke Bay Laboratories (ABL) initiated the Southeast Alaska Coastal Monitoring (SECM) project in 1997 to better understand the effects of climate and near-shore Ocean conditions on year-class strength of salmon and ecologically-related species. This research in turn provides improved information for resource management of salmon in the Pacific Salmon Treaty (PST) northern boundary. In particular SECM data provides a forecast index for northern southeast Alaska (SEAK) Transboundary River Chinook salmon returns, an annual pink salmon abundance forecast, and long term environmental and population data that are used by harvest managers in the PST northern boundary, which includes PST Chapter 2 pink salmon treaty issues in districts 101, 102, 103, and 104.


Salish Sea Marine Survival Project

The Salish Sea Marine Survival Project leverages human and financial resources from the United States and Canada to determine the primary factors affecting the survival of juvenile salmon and steelhead in the Salish Sea. It is the largest and most important research of its kind in the shared waters of British Columbia and Washington State, addressing a key uncertainty impeding salmon recovery and sustainable fisheries. The project will, for the first time, undertake a comprehensive study of the physical, chemical and biological factors impacting salmon survival, in order to improve our collective understanding of salmon in saltwater, facilitating smarter management and stronger returns.

Over 60 organizations, representing diverse philosophies and encompassing most of the region’s fisheries and marine research and management complex, are working together on this massive transboundary effort. And, the Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF) and Long Live the Kings (LLTK) are coordinating it.

Salish Sea Marine Survival Project 2014

Ridell (PSF), Schmidt (LLTK)

Gitanyow (Kitwanga) Lake Assessment

The Kitwanga River is a tributary of the Skeena River, located 250 km from the coast and supports significant runs of Pacific salmon. Kitwanga sockeye are genetically unique and a distinct conservation unit as described under Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy. Historically, sockeye returns to the Kitwanga were in the tens of thousands and they supported a number of sustenance and economic fisheries. In more recent times the stock has been depressed and in many years returns are not enough to meet the minimum biological requirements for the stock. In response to this conservation concern the Gitanyow, with help from organizations like the Pacific Salmon Commission and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, have initiated a rebuilding plan to preserve the genetic uniqueness of the stock and to try and rebuild it to more historical levels. Rebuilding efforts have included the creation of spawning platforms in 2006 and 2007 in Gitanyow Lake, the enhancement of the stock through hatchery production in 2006 & 2007 and a reduction in the overall exploitation rate on the stock through the implementation of strict fisheries management guidelines. The results of the rebuilding efforts have been mixed as the stock has responded positively in some year classes but not in others. To date, millions of dollars have been spent to rebuild the stock and many more millions of dollars have been foregone in lost revenues in the Canadian commercial catch, in efforts to get more spawners back to the Kitwanga River and Gitanyow Lake.

Since 1999, the GFA in partnership with DFO and other organizations have been studying Kitwanga sockeye and Gitanyow Lake in an attempt to better understand the stock and the environment where they reside. Annual smolt and adult enumeration operations have been ongoing for over 10 years, while Gitanyow Lake studies were performed between 1999 and 2003. Lake studies were abandoned due to funding constraints and because it was found that freshwater smolt production from the system at that time was very high and the lake limnology was not likely impacting smolt production. However, since that time we have noticed a significant decrease in freshwater smolt production which has renewed the need to look at the lake biology in more detail.


Mark Recovery Program Coded Wire Tag Sampling, Dissection and Reporting

This project is one component of the Coast Wide CWT System which includes fully integrated CWT tagging, sampling, lab operations, analyses and data exchange along the entire west coast of North America with a high level of coordination and cooperation among the coastal states and Canada across many political jurisdictions. The funding supports fishery CWT sampling from Commercial, First Nations economic, and recreational fisheries in BC that encounter Chinook indicator stocks, as well as head lab operations and the management of resulting data.

CWT data is essential in annual analyses in deriving Canadian and US allotments of chinook total allowable catch, assessing compliance under the PST, calculating fisheries and stock specific statistics (i.e. exploitation rates, survival rates, maturation rates), monitoring trends in marine survival, assessing fishing impacts, forecasting pre-fishery ocean stock abundances, and evaluating the effectiveness of hatchery production and experimental programs. CWT data is also important for assessing stock status, forecasting stock abundance, and monitoring trends in regional survival patterns for climate change investigations and ecosystem-based assessments. Long-term time series of CWT data is key information to discern variations in salmon abundance resulting from variations in ocean survival and human-induced impacts.


Monitoring occurrence and prevalence of Ichthyophthirius multifiliis (Ich), Loma salmonae (Loma), and infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus (IHNV) in Skeena River sockeye stocks

Babine sockeye are the single largest sockeye stock in the northern boundary area. The stock currently provides approximately 90% of the Skeena sockeye. Recent returns have generally been below average, and the 2013 return in the range of 400,000 was one of the lowest since the early 1950’s. Although the specific causes for reduced productivity in recent years are unknown; one potential contributing factor may be losses due to infectious or parasitic disease. For instance, disease outbreaks of Ich and Loma in the Fulton River spawning channels in 1994 and 1995 resulted in exceedingly high prespawn mortalities (PSM) that ultimately lead to an estimated 154 million fewer sockeye salmon fry than the historical average. More recently in 2009 and 2013, Ich and Loma were found in association with upwards of 40% PSM in the largest channel at Fulton, resulting in sharp decreases in production from those two brood years. Another pathogen known to cause significant mortality in British Columbian and Alaskan Sockeye salmon populations is IHNV. Despite the potential impact that these pathogens may have on the productivity of Skeena sockeye stocks, our knowledge concerning the basic epidemiology (i.e. prevalence and distribution) of these agents is limited to that obtained through opportunistic sampling by DFO stock assessment and science staff.

Consequently the objective of this project is to conduct routine monitoring of Babine Sockeye stocks to better understand the disease epidemiology of deadly pathogens (Ich, Loma, and IHNV) with the goal of acquiring information to aid management in developing strategies to reduce disease impacts.


Stikine Chinook Aerial Surveys

Chinook salmon in the Stikine River comprise one of over 50 indicator stocks included in annual assessments by the Chinook Technical Committee of the Pacific Salmon Commission to determine stock status, effects of management regimes, and other requirements of the Pacific Salmon Treaty (Der Hovanisian and Etherton 2006). The Stikine River is one of the largest producers of Chinook salmon in Northern B.C. and Southeast Alaska (Der Hovanisian and Etherton 2006).

Stikine Chinook aerial surveys provide Chinook counts from index sites in both the upper (Little Tahltan, Tahltan, and Beatty) and lower reaches (Christina and Verrett) of the Stikine River which loosely corresponds to DFO’s Wild Salmon Policy prescribed conservation units (stocks), in concert with augmenting the current Little Tahltan weir, and providing some measure of validation of the system wide mark-recapture based escapement estimates.


Improvements to Predicting En-route Loss Estimates for Fraser Sockeye Salmon

The Fraser Panel has identified as a priority for 2015 SEF Projects to examine factors that may explain or predict en-route losses in Fraser River sockeye. This is in response to impacts associated with the growing uncertainty in predicting migration mortality of Fraser sockeye as overall levels of en-route losses increase (mainly in association with higher river temperatures  Patterson et al. 2007 a,b). Because fishing plans are adjusted to account for expected levels of en-route mortality, this has affected not only the achievement of spawning escapement targets but also the achievement of catch goals for U.S. and Canadian fishers in all sectors. Furthermore, harvest and escapement goals are made at the level of the four management groups but en-route losses can vary considerably at the stock level. These problems became acute and costly in 2013, when models used to predict en-route losses were accurate for a single-stock management group, Early Stuart, but not for the more abundant multi-stock Summer-run management group.

The en-route loss model that relies on simple inputs of temperature and flow from a single location grossly overestimated en-route loss of Summer-run fish in 2013. This overestimation of loss led to missed harvest opportunities for First Nations, commercial and recreational fishers from both Canada and the United States. In 2014, extensive debate continued over the use of simple environmentally-based models for predicting loss for all management groups, reminding us that this issue will not abate. The recent challenges faced by the Fraser Panel to make decisions regarding harvest adjustments to compensate for expected levels of en-route loss have highlighted the pressing need to re-examine the factors used to understand and describe en-route loss and the modelling work used to predict these losses.

We propose to address this priority by focusing on three main areas: 1) update and refine the current DNA-based stock assessment information needed for future modelling; 2) improve the existing management group-based en-route loss models (i.e., Management Adjustment models); and 3) expand the work to include new research on migration biology for individual stocks and explore alternative methods for applying this information to management.



Increased Chinook Salmon Stock Coded-Wire Tagging to Improve the Quality of Chinook Indicator Stock Analyses

We propose to maintain increased coded-wire tagging (CWT) for nine Chinook indicator stocks in B.C. that contribute to Northern and Southern Boundary Area fisheries. This proposal will fund incremental tagging beyond the base level provided by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in order to meet standards derived by the PSC CWT work group to account for survival rate, fishery sampling rate, exploitation rate, and an 80% probability of attaining a minimum standard of observed CWT recoveries. This work has been funded through the Pacific Salmon Treaty (PST) Coded Wire Tag Improvement Fund from 2009-2013, and the PSC Northern Endowment Fund and as a Very High Priority Chinook project in 2014-2016. This project proposes to maintain the increased tagging rates on the highest priority indicator stocks through to 2018, until which time CWTs will be the primary fishery assessment tool for Chinook salmon. This proposal addresses several priorities for implementation of the PST and will improve the ability to better manage the Chinook stocks and fisheries of relevance to the PST.

This proposal is for stocks providing the majority of benefits, based on total fishing mortality distribution, to Northern and Southern Boundary Area fisheries. This proposal addresses nine stock groups represented by CWT indicator programs on Robertson (WCVI), Quinsam (Upper Georgia Strait), Lower Shuswap and Nicola (Fraser Early), Atnarko (Central Coast), Kitsumkalum (North Coast), Harrison and Chilliwack (Fraser Late), and Cowichan (lower Georgia Strait) populations. When these stocks are healthy and abundant they can be large contributors to Southeast Alaska (SEAK), Northern British Columbia (NBC) and West Coast Vancouver Island (WCVI) fisheries.



Evaluation and Coordination of Information Useful for Predicting En-route Loss in Fraser Sockeye

The ability to both maximize harvest opportunities and achieve spawning escapement targets for Fraser sockeye requires accurate predictions of en-route loss and the associated adjustments to harvest, termed Management Adjustments (MAs). Recent extreme environmental conditions and increased variability in the MA model predictions (based solely on empirical relationships between upper and lower discrepancy estimates) have created large difficulties for managers tasked with trying to adjust harvest. This uncertainty in the in-season estimates of MAs based on model predictions has led the Fraser River Panel to consider alternative biological and environmental information to supplement their MA decision making process. However, in many cases there has been no systematic review of the additional information being provided and limited contextual data to evaluate the utility of these alternative information sources. In addition, there has not been explicit coordination amongst all of the groups contributing information to this process.

We propose to review the types of information requested by the Panel and (A) standardize the contextual information through providing historical context, (B) summarize the scientific support for the evidence, (C) coordinate efforts to ensure the most relevant data is collected and communicated to the Panel in a time-sensitive manner, (D) and develop a framework for combining these alternative sources of information with MA model outputs to better inform the overall MA process. Given recent trends and future predictions of water temperatures and flow conditions, this information will be of increased value to help manage Fraser sockeye and other salmon populations facing similar issues (e.g. Columbia & Somass sockeye; Summer-run Chinook). Our results will include an evaluation of the current information provided by groups contributing data, plus recommendations for new information.