Sockeye salmon stocks declining: Dr. Craig Orr

Dr. Craig Orr, executive director of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, describes Chilko and Quesnel Sockeye as special.

Dr. Craig Orr, executive director of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, describes Chilko and Quesnel Sockeye as special.

“In particular, the Chilko Sockeye is the super Sockeye of the Fraser River,” Orr says, explaining it has the largest heart of all Fraser Sockeye and the most torpedo-shaped form for better swimming.

That form comes in handy, because it has one of the longest migrations, making its way back to the Chilko Lake system. In the beginning, Chilko salmon spawn in the tributaries of Chilko Lake, where the juveniles spend a year before migrating out to sea.

In terms of the Fraser River, Chilko Sockeye also have the highest temperature tolerance of all Sockeye in the Fraser, Orr says.

“Fraser Sockeye are undergoing a fair bit of thermal stress these days from climate change impacts.”

A study done by UBC faculty in 2011 states the temperature has increased by two degrees since the 1950s, with the last 20 years being some of the warmest on record.

It also states there are more than 100 distinct populations of Sockeye salmon, and to spawn, each population completes a unique migration route.

Some stocks, like Adams River stock, are quite susceptible to thermal stress, Orr adds.

Watershed Watch was an official participant and part of the conservation coalition during the 18 months of the Cohen Inquiry.

While the report isn’t due until September, Orr references some of the findings from the inquiry and testimonies that wrapped up in December.

Twenty participant groups participated in the inquiry over 180 days of testimony involving 181 witnesses speaking.

“Something like 2,145 exhibits were officially tendered and there were 33 expert and policy and practice reports put out by the Cohen Inquiry. There’s a very large data base of information that came out of the inquiry.”

Orr was an expert witness on water issues and salmon farming issues during the inquiry.

He’s been involved with salmon conservation efforts since 1990.

Watershed Watch has studied the impacts of salmon farming for the past dozen years on coastal populations of wild salmon.

“We’re seeing severe concerns over water for salmon around British Columbia, and impacts from gravel extraction, disease and sea lice.”

From the inquiry people have a much better idea of the problems facing Fraser Sockeye, Orr says.

The question is going to be around political will and whether changes in policies can occur to protect them.

“It’s like a stock portfolio out there in the Fraser River. Not all Sockeye and not all stocks do equally well. Chilko Sockeye have been one of the better performers in the Fraser and in the stock portfolio for many years, although recent trends suggest they’re declining as well.”

Orr also currently serves as chair of the Pacific Marine Conservation Caucus and is the founding chair of BC Hydro’s Bridge Coastal Restoration program.

He was to also make a presentation at the arts centre in Williams Lake Wednesday evening, after Tribune press time.






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