The Fraser River Connection

Photo: Robert Koopmans

When it comes to wild salmon, British Columbia’s Fraser River is a global jewel. It is one of the largest salmon producing rivers in the world.

Recent science is indicating the impact of sea lice from salmon farms has a much greater reach than has previously been studied. Results are still preliminary, but they suggest the largest sockeye salmon run in the world—the Fraser River—may be facing unnaturally high levels of sea lice because of open net-cage salmon farms.

CAAR is demanding emergency protection for these sockeye, and other wild salmon, by clearing the Wild Salmon Narrows of harmful open net-cage salmon farms.

With peer-reviewed research in the Broughton Archipelago repeatedly showing that open net-cage salmon farms expose wild juvenile salmon to unnaturally high levels of sea lice during their out-migration, it is not surprising that this same dynamic would be taking place in other areas with net-cage farms.

Research in Europe has already shown that juvenile Atlantic salmon and sea trout—both of which are larger as juveniles than any of the five Pacific salmon species—have experienced major declines because of farm-origin sea lice.

CAAR is currently working on a study with contributions from the Pacific Salmon Commission and cooperation from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to determine the genetic origins of juvenile sockeye caught in the high farm-density region of the northern Georgia Strait.

Details of the Scientific Research

  • In research sponsored by CAAR during April to July in 2007 and 2008, Raincoast Conservation Society examined juveniles at sites near active salmon farms and far from farms to determine whether salmon farms elevate lice infection levels on juveniles migrating through the Discovery Islands region.
  • Both pink and chum repeatedly hosted more sea lice near farms than far from farms in both years.
  • During this time, they also incidentally caught juvenile sockeye infected with lice. Follow-up sea lice examinations and final analyses still need to be completed before the findings are published.
  • Because there are few local sockeye populations in this region, and the scientists consistently observed large abundances of sockeye migrating through this region, they wanted to determine where these lice-infected fish were from.
  • With contributions from the Pacific Salmon Commission, and through the cooperation of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, a sub-sample of collected sockeye were sent to the salmon genetics laboratory for origin determination.
  • Preliminary results from these genetic analyses have confirmed the predominance of Fraser River populations in samples of juvenile sockeye salmon caught near salmon farms in northern Georgia Strait.
  • In 2007, approximately 60% of juvenile sockeye examined were from the Fraser River, with Chilco and Quesnel stocks dominating.
  • In 2008, approximately 99% were Fraser stocks, with Chilco and Shuswap dominating
  • Read CAAR’s media release: Fraser River sockeye may be at risk of sea lice infection from salmon farms

Fraser River and Coastal BC Communities Asking For Action

Now that evidence is emerging that sea lice may be affecting wild salmon from the Fraser River, inland communities are taking notice. They want to know what risks their local wild salmon may be encountering as they migrate through the Georgia Strait.

CAAR members travelled to Williams Lake as part of an effort to speak with local groups in the Fraser River watershed about these issues. During a presentation to the BC Wildlife Federation the audience appeared surprised to hear that local stocks—Chilco and Quesnel—were the dominant Fraser stocks found in the sample.

At CAAR meetings in the Lytton, Lillooet and Mt. Currie areas, members of local First Nations and conservation groups also expressed great concern that the salmon they rely on to return each year may be affected by the open net salmon farming operations in the Georgia Strait.

Join the Wild Salmon Narrows email series to find out more and to get involved!