Pushing salmon to the edge on the Cowichan

Oct 18, 2019 | Blog | 0 comments

I have a few Google alerts set up. One of them is associated with my name. It turns up stories about me and also every time St. Louis Cardinals team athletic trainer “Adam Olsen” makes the news, I get the update. Additionally, any news that Google picks up about “salmon” and “fish farms” is also dropped into my email inbox.

Recently, it’s been difficult to escape the stories about the massive die-off in the industrial salmon feedlots in Newfoundland & Labrador. While Liberal Party of Canada MPs on the east coast have been in the news defending their fish farming industry, boats have been pumping pink fluid from the carcasses of millions of dead salmon back into the ocean. Industry representatives are quick to brush it aside, it’s all organic matter so it mush be fine. However, at the very least it must be noted that any discharge of the volume of fat and organic matter in this case can not be good for the receiving environment.

Another curious story showed up the other day about hybrid salmon closer to home in the Cowichan River.

Normally, chinook and coho are able to maintain their genetic distinction from each other because they spawn in different parts of the river, months apart from each other.

Unfortunately, not much is “normal” in the Cowichan River these days. A collection of challenges including industrial water rights, property development and climate change have all had a tremendous impact on the river.

First Nations and scientists have found second generation chinook/coho hybrid salmon. They were first noticed by a Cowichan First Nation member who saw the fish while working in the river tagging adult salmon.

The article highlights unusual scale arrangements, abnormal anal fins, mouth colouration and spotting on the tails, which all help identify the hybrids.

Seeing dramatic changes on the Cowichan

With the frequency and severity of droughts increasing, it’s causing chaos in the spawning grounds. The low water quantity is increasing the likelihood of hybridization as the early spawning chinook are forced further into the fall, the time of the later spawning coho.

This hybridization is rare among wild salmon. I’m sharing this story because the stress on these usually distict species is human caused.

I and my colleague Sonia Furstenau have been deeply critical of the forestry practices in British Columbia. The changing landscape of the Cowichan River due to forestry practices is singled out by scientists as one of the reasons this abnormal hybridization is occurring.

Human activity is having a negative impact on the environment. It’s important that the scientists continue to explore how and why this is hybridization is occurring. In the meantime, it’s yet another reason why the provincial government needs to quickly change its relationship with nature and how all the ministries, agencies, and crown corporations make decisions about how we interact with the critical ecosystems that sustain life.

Photo credit: “Cowichan River delta from Mt Tzouhalem” by “Gerry Thomasen” used under licence “CC by 2.0

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