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Sockeye run implodes; sea lice blamed

The Fraser River sockeye run has collapsed this summer, and environmentalists blame Georgia Strait fish farms.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, in a July 5 post on its website, described this collapse as "migration difficulties for most populations of Fraser River sockeye salmon."

According to the blog Osprey Steelhead News, the Fraser sockeye run is a bust:

The Fraser has multiple distinct runs of Sockeye, all of which appear to be seeing lower than expected returns. With recent high temperatures, Summer Sockeye the largest component of the run will be subject to potentially lethal river temps over 20 C.

While it is impossible to blame one factor for the poor returns, development of fish farms in the Georgia Strait is likely sevely impacting outmigrant sockeye smolts and in recent years high prespawn mortality in adult sockeye has meant that many fish aren't even reaching the spawning grounds.

High prespawn mortality has been attributed to in river temperatures however some researchers believe disease may be contributing. Salmon farms along the migratory corridor may be increasing the incidence of disease among returning adults.

Meanwhile, environmentalist Alexandra Morton alerted her readers to the problem:

This week the Fraser River sockeye run was critically downgraded. This was no surprise to me as I looked at this generation of Fraser sockeye and they were infected with sea lice near the fish farms from Campbell River to eastern Johnstone Strait.

While they are bigger than pink and chum salmon when they enter the sea, they are damaged by the lice, you can see an image on the website

The pattern keeps repeating. If they caught farm lice when they were young, they never come home. As soon as the farm salmon are removed, they do come home.

Morton went on to say:

The downgrade of the Fraser sockeye is a warning we can choose to ignore or react to. Alaska is seeing huge sockeye returns and they do not allow Atlantic salmon to be penned on their salmon migration routes.

We can make many guesses as to what happened to our sockeye, but it does not make sense to ignore the one that has been researched and published and seen worldwide. Commercial, sport and tourism operators are taking losses to protect our wild salmon and yet the fish farms just keep getting bigger and more numerous.

There is something very wrong here and if we want our wild salmon we need to speak now or forever lose our fish.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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