Pacific salmon has always been an iconic Canadian species, especially here on the West Coast. There are five unique species of salmon that you can find in B.C. waters: pink, sockeye, chum, coho, and chinook.
They are a prized species, not just because of the role they play in our diet but more importantly, because of the role they play in their native ecosystems.
The mission of Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise® program is to mitigate the overall issue of overfishing. Our science-based assessments are rigorous, and look at four key criteria: impacts of the fishery on the stock in question, impacts of the fishery on other species, effectiveness of management and impacts on habitat and ecosystem.
Fisheries are regularly re-assessed to ensure that any major changes are factored into their ranking or Ocean Wise recommendation. That way we know our recommendations are based on current information, and can recommend to consumers the best possible sustainable options at the time.
This summer, some of the fisheries for two Pacific salmon species — coho and chinook — were re-assessed. The majority of chinook and coho in B.C. remain an Ocean Wise option. These include fisheries from the north coast and central coasts of B.C. and transboundary Canada (between northern B.C. and Alaska).
For the first time, there were some B.C. salmon fisheries that were re-assessed and resulted in a “not recommended” Ocean Wise status. They’re located in southern B.C. and the west coast of Vancouver Island, and for the most part, represent a minor part of the total catch of these species in the province.
It’s been widely reported that some salmon stocks in southern B.C. have been in decline in recent years, and programs including Ocean Wise have been monitoring these changes closely. There are a number of confounding factors that may be contributing to these declines, including small parental generations, warming water temperatures in river and in the ocean and habitat loss. In addition to these contributors, salmon returns can fluctuate dramatically from year to year, stream to stream, species to species and population to population.
The coho and chinook fisheries on the south coast each make up one percent of the proportional catch of those species in that area, as they’re more often taken as bycatch in other salmon fisheries.
On the west coast of Vancouver Island, the chinook salmon that is now not recommended amounts to 43 per cent of the total catch. They’re caught by trolling lines, and while this normally doesn’t result in a significant concern for bycatch, the fishery is known to catch U.S. salmon stocks. These stocks, which include the Puget Sound chinook and Snake River Fall chinook, are listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened.
Humans aren’t the only ones that count these fish as a food source; so do the southern resident killer whales, which are currently listed as endangered by Canada’s Species at Risk At. Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, head of the Marine Mammal Research Program at Vancouver Aquarium, has been studying this killer whale population and their dependence on chinook salmon as a primary food source. They are so dependent on chinook that we now know their death rate goes up in years when there is a low run. Good management of these fisheries is crucial.
With these new recommendations, which can be seen here, the major change consumers might see is a lack of Ocean Wise salmon caught from southern B.C. at their local grocery store or in restaurants for the time being.
For a list of alternatives, visit our seafood recommendation site or download the Ocean Wise app for iPhone or Android. And keep checking back, as we regularly make updates to ensure we’ve got the current information to help consumers make ocean-friendly choices.
Overfishing is the single biggest threat our oceans face today. With more than 675 partners across Canada, Ocean Wise makes it easy for consumers to make sustainable seafood choices that ensure the health of our oceans for generations to come. The Ocean Wise symbol next to a seafood item is the Vancouver Aquarium’s assurance of an ocean-friendly seafood choice. www.oceanwise.ca.