Only one out of ten of the expected bright-red sockeye salmon showed up at Canada’s Fraser River to spawn this summer. Some marine biologists attribute the deaths to the growing number of commercial fish farms that governments on both sides of border have allowed to open.
More than 10 million sockeye were expected to return to the Fraser, but less than 1 million showed up, according to government fish counters.
So what does this mean to consumers?
Of the five major salmon species sold to shoppers and restaurants, fish mongers tell me that most people seem to prefer the sockeye, which is sometimes called Red salmon because of its mild flavor and deep red color.
Sockeye almost always sells for less than the top-of-the-eating-line King salmon.
Canadian Broadcasting reported today that major fish sellers have just about run out of fresh sockeye. But I checked with the Wild Salmon Seafood Market at Seattle’s Fisherman’s Terminal, and they say they can get all the sockeye they need “so far.”
Stan Proboszcz, a fish biologist with “Watershed Watch Salmon Society” told me today that the cause of the sockeye kill-off might be attributed to a marine parasite.
Other environmental activists and some academics agree that the 90 percent drop in the Fraser’s sockeye population can be blamed mostly on sea lice.
These parasites are found in very high concentrations around the sprawling commercial fish farms of Georgia Strait, which runs 170-miles north from the Strait of Juan de Fuca — which separates the U.S. and Canada – to the northeast coast of Vancouver Island.
Proboszcz explained that the juvenile salmon leaving their fresh water birth site — the Fraser River — for the Pacific, soon run into the sea lice from the floating fish farms. The lice attach themselves to the fish and feed on their blood and skin.
The parasites are not unique to the Pacific Coast.
Fish biologists in Maine and in countries bordering the cold waters of the North Atlantic have reported the same problem, that billions of lice can be generated by a single floating salmon farm.
Proboszcz says that while a few lice on a large salmon may not cause serious damage, just a couple on a juvenile salmon, can be harmful or fatal.
Fisheries and Ocean Canada, which, does little to control the hazards from fish farming, has the same conflict of interest that face U.S. agencies, Proboszcz says.
Both groups are tasked with ensuring the health of wild salmon, but also with promoting more commercial aquaculture.
Other causes including over-fishing or an increase in water temperature may add to the sockeye’s demise, the experts say.
Both the B.C. and Washington State governments have approved the construction of more fish farms so the parasite problem, and other harmful spin–offs of the industry, may become worse.
Here is a link to a six-minute bit of animation that can illustrate the hazards faced by spawning fish.