Category: Northern Fund

Improving CTC efficiency by coordinating reports and facilitating meetings and communications, pilot study

In 2020, the Commissioners at the Pacific Salmon Commission (PSC) approved a one-year pilot to hire a Chinook Technical Committee (CTC) Coordinator staffed by the Secretariat to provide this support. This position is a pilot project to assess the capacity of the PSC Secretariat to improve CTC related communication and help the CTC achieve their annual work plan as well as achieve additional tasks as required.

This proposal seeks funding for a second year of the pilot project in order to fully evaluate the long-term need for a Coordinator to support the work of the CTC. If the project is successful, the Commission recognizes that long-term funding of PSC Secretariat personnel would be its responsibility.

Genetic tools to inform sustainable fisheries and rebuild at-risk coho, chum and Chinook populations

In the Central Coast of BC, coho, chum and Chinook salmon populations have declined in recent decades, likely due to ongoing climate change, freshwater habitat degradation, and overharvest in mixed-stock fisheries. The spawning abundance of many populations is poorly monitored, harvest rate estimates are lacking for Central Coast coho stocks, stock composition in commercial chum fisheries is unquantified, and harvest rate information is only available for two hatchery-enhanced Chinook stocks (i.e., Atnarko, Wannock). These issues raise concerns about the long-term sustainability of fisheries as well as the feasibility of recovery and conservation efforts. Thus, there is an urgent need to develop and apply genetic tools that can inform the management of mixed-stock fisheries in British Columbia and Southeast Alaska under the Pacific Salmon Treaty (PST) and improve the effectiveness of recovery efforts.

This project will align with First Nations-led DNA collections to build baselines for coho, chum, and Chinook and the application of GSI to mixed-stock samples collected in on-going catch monitoring programs administered by CCIRA and Central Coast First Nations (CCFN) by providing additional opportunities for collections of mixed-stock samples to quantify catch composition in Central Coast fisheries. Expanded DNA baselines for Central Coast coho, chum, and Chinook will enable estimates of harvest for Central Coast stocks in Alaskan and BC fisheries and improve data on catch composition and total harvest in Central Coast fisheries. These data will lead to improved salmon management under the PST by allowing managers to direct fishing activity (commercial, recreational and First Nations Food, Social, and Ceremonial, FSC) towards abundant populations, thereby reducing impacts on at-risk stocks.

Slamgeesh Salmon Project – Fence Sill Rebuild

Slamgeesh Salmon project, which enumerates sockeye and coho adults and smolts, has been in continuous operation by Gitksan Watershed Authorities from 2000 to 2019. The fence was washed out on August 23, 2020 by an extreme precipitation event in conjunction with upstream beaver dam failures, which released relatively massive amounts of stored water and the resulting peak flow collapsed the counting fence. The fence abutments remained solid, fence trusses and panels were subsequently recovered; however, the foundation was altered and the sill disappeared.
This project concept proposes to re-install a functional counting fence foundation and sill (58’ X 12’) utilizing small pipe piles, a structural steel framework capable of supporting the aluminum sill plate and fence superstructure components including the panels and smolt trap accessories.

Production capacity and habitat status of Meziadin Lake

Historically, Meziadin Lake has been the largest producer of sockeye salmon in the Nass River watershed. Between 1982 and 2016, the overall average annual escapement of Meziadin Lake sockeye salmon declined, with an especially notable downward trend in annual escapement since 2010. Similarly, since 1982 the proportion of Meziadin Lake sockeye salmon as a proportion of the total Nass River aggregate population has decreased an average of 3-13% per decade, with the largest decrease occurring in the last ten years. A variety of factors can contribute to declining stocks, including biological or habitat constraints to freshwater productivity. Biological limitations to the production of sockeye salmon in Meziadin Lake have been the subject of fisheries management discussions for decades, and historically the limnology of Meziadin Lake was relatively well-studied compared to other systems in the region. In 2002, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) recommended that in years of low spawner abundance (<100,000), Meziadin Lake limnology should be assessed throughout the growing season and fall-fry abundance and age composition obtained to further explain factors affecting fry growth and survival (Bocking et al. 2002). However, despite recommendations in 2006 by DFO Core Stock Assessment Program to establish a comprehensive sockeye lakes research program throughout the BC north coast, many of these programs were discontinued. As a result, comprehensive seasonally-resolved limnology surveys in conjunction with an evaluation of production capacity have not been conducted on Meziadin Lake since 2001. The ongoing decline in sockeye salmon escapement to Meziadin Lake warrants updated information on potential limiting factors to freshwater productivity.

The objectives of our proposal are to identify potential limitations to freshwater productivity within Meziadin Lake by providing updated estimates of sockeye salmon production capacity and habitat status. To achieve these objectives, we will collect limnological, hydroacoustic, zooplankton population and limnetic fish data throughout the growing season and use a bioenergetics model to estimate net juvenile  sockeye productivity and habitat carrying capacity. Results will also provide updated information on the evolution of limnological conditions throughout the growing season and how those patterns may influence short and long-term freshwater productivity, as well as inform future development of habitat benchmarks for Meziadin Lake.

Snettisham Central Incubation Facility Water Chiller Upgrade for Transboundary River Sockeye Enhancement Program

Snettisham Central Incubation Facility (CIF) raises sockeye salmon fry for the Transboundary River (TBR) enhancement program, domestic smolt for the United States fishing fleet, and fry for a small lake stocking program for a personal use fishery at Sweetheart Creek. Chilled water is necessary for all programs on site to rear healthy, viable fry and to thermally mark fish such that hatchery fish can be distinguished from their wild-origin cousins. At this time, the two water chillers at Snettisham CIF are in need of replacement. The existing chillers were used units prior to being installed at Snettisham CIF over 30 years ago, and replacement parts are becoming more difficult to locate and will soon be obsolete. With the recent warming climate, the Snettisham CIF chiller system has been put under increasing stress to keep up with the various aspects of the sockeye enhancement programs on site.
For the TBR program, eggs are collected in Canada, fertilized and transported to Snettisham CIF for overwinter incubation and otolith marking. As the lakes in Canada typically do not reach ice-out until May or early June, having an efficient chilling system is an integral part of the operation to make sure the
fry do not emerge from their incubators with much time before the lakes are ready to accept them. In recent years, fry have emerged early due to warmer water conditions and old, inefficient chiller units, and the fry must be fed to survive until ice out on the lakes. As the Snettisham CIF is not set up well for long
term rearing of TBR fry, new chillers are necessary to make certain the TBR sockeye enhancement program that Treaty obligations for sockeye enhancement are met, and to ensure healthy fry are delivered back to the Canadian lakes in a timely fashion for the best possible freshwater survival.

Canadian independent review of District-104 fishery evaluation and Skeena and Nass sockeye salmon escapement goal analysis

Under Chapter 2 of the 2019 Pacific Salmon Treaty, Canada is required to conduct an analysis of escapement goals for sockeye salmon returning to the Skeena and Nass watersheds prior to the 2023 fishing season. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will complete a harvest pattern analysis of the pink salmon fishery in District 104 that evaluates long-term abundance trends for salmon stocks within the Northern Boundary area. The Treaty language states that these analyses (of Skeena and Nass sockeye escapement goals and District 104 pink salmon fishery) shall be reviewed by independent contractors selected by each country and then submitted to the Northern Boundary Technical Committee and Northern Panel for further review.

An initial draft of the harvest-pattern analysis for District 104 fisheries is near completion, and the Skeena and Nass sockeye salmon escapement goals analysis is underway. The Canadian escapement goal analysis will occur in two stages which include (1) a technical review of the alternative datasets for Skeena and Nass sockeye, and (2) estimation and evaluation of biological escapement goals for these populations.

Skeena River Chum Salmon Radio Telemetry

We propose to conduct a chum salmon radiotelemetry feasibility project on the Skeena River to evaluate if a fullscale Skeena chum salmon radiotelemetry would be beneficial, and to determine if enough chum salmon could be captured at sites along the lower Skeena River to provide a sufficient number of viable adult chum salmon to carry out a radio telemetry project of this scope in future years. If a fullscale radiotelemetry project is deemed worthwhile and feasible, and funding is provided, we will assess spawning distribution, relative abundances of the different Skeena chum stocks, migratory behavior, and evaluate if the development of an aggregate Skeena chum salmon escapement estimator using genetic tools is possible, and appropriate.

Escapement accounting of Nass watershed pink salmon

The quality of the information which is used to make Area 3 escapement estimates has decreased since 2010, especially on coastal systems and large contributors. While Nisga’a Lisims Government (NLG) receives funding to do accurate and timely surveys of inland systems within Nisga’a territories (a portion of Area 3), Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ (DFO) funding for the coverage of large indicators has decreased. Because of this, DFO and Nisga’a through a Joint Technical Committee are increasing our reliance on making large expansions that estimate returns to the Statistical Management Area or on inserting estimates for indicator systems based on regressions with surveyed systems.

While regressions and expansions show promise, they can also be problematic if large systems behave differently than smaller systems. Implications of mistaken estimates can mean that commercial and treaty harvest opportunities in Canada may not align with actual returns and can thus lead to over-harvest or foregone catch.

For 2020, we propose that DFO crews will do 4 aerial surveys of important even-year pink salmon producers for Area 3 (i.e., Kwinamass, Khutzeymateen, Toon and Kincolith) and NLG Fisheries and Wildlife Department (NFWD) ground crews will do Area 3 indicator systems that can be done without aerial support (a minimum of 2 systems among Dogfish, Chambers, Crag and Lizard). This project will compliment proposed work by the NFWD that will survey chum indicators which are also contributors of even-year pink salmon. Directed collaborative efforts by DFO and Nisga’a will enable us to produce strong watershed estimates and to compare it with regression methodologies used in previous years to see if they are viable options if all indicators can’t be surveyed.

Taku River Coho Salmon Genetic Stock Identification Baseline Development

The continuation of developing and implementing genetic stock identification (GSI) is relevant to increase knowledge and improve management of Transboundary Area salmon stocks. In particular: Continue collaborative TTC effort to identify and fill priority genetic baseline data gaps. Over the long-term, agencies should collect genetic baseline data for Transboundary coho salmon. The Parties are committed to developing genetic stock ID baselines that can be shared and used in the cooperative management of Transboundary stocks, genetic stock identification is a high priority of the Panel as stated in the “Transboundary Panel Strategic Salmon Plan.”

GSI programs has been supported by the Northern Fund since 2008 but until now, has concentrated on obtaining tissue samples from Chinook and sockeye salmon. Once coho salmon tissue samples have been analysed, it would allow DFO and ADF&G to identify the composition of the commercial harvests by stock groupings, for run timing and exploitation rate information. As an added benefit, it has the potential to generate drainage-wide abundance estimates, if, in the future, escapement counts are obtained from headwater areas.

Tahltan River Chinook Salmon Assessment Feasibility

The primary objective of this project is to test the feasibility of obtaining a census of Chinook salmon entering the Tahltan River in the Stikine River drainage. Based on telemetry data, the Tahltan River (into which Tahltan Lake, Beatty Creek, and the Little Tahltan River drain) is the most important Chinook tributary in the Stikine River drainage, supporting up to 60% of the total annual return. The use of sonar technology in the Tahltan River would complement existing weir operations at Little Tahltan River by providing a census of all Chinook salmon entering the river. The index approach using Little Tahltan weir data to derive an escapement estimate for the Stikine River has been complicated in recent years by an apparent decrease in the contribution of Little Tahltan Chinook to the overall Stikine River Chinook escapement.