Protecting Kokanee salmon

Vancouver – Cumulative impacts of population growth and land use practices may be leading to the “invisible collapse” of Canada’s freshwater fisheries.

A new research project funded in part by Genome BC (called Genomic solutions for informing sockeye repatriation and kokanee fisheries management) will offer insight into how freshwater fisheries can be better informed and subsequently managed.

“Applying genomics to migratory sockeye and native kokanee salmon will allow us to better monitor stock health in the face of active management, including population supplementation with hatchery fish,” says project leader Dr. Michael Russello, an associate professor in UBC Okanagan’s Department of Biology.

Freshwater fisheries are an integral part of BC’s social and economic fabric. Direct, indirect and induced impacts of sport fishing totals more than $950 million. Kokanee, a freshwater form of sockeye salmon, supports very popular recreational fisheries in lakes across BC’s Okanagan region and the Pacific Northwest and is also a traditional food source for First Nations. Over 500,000 kokanee salmon were caught last year.

“In addition to stock delineation and prioritization of stocks for conservation, the project should contribute new knowledge for enhancing the effectiveness of hatchery programs,” says Russello.

This project includes end-user partners and stakeholders in freshwater fisheries including the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA), the BC Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO) and BC Hydro. Project findings could guide the development of best practices management and policy for the environment and fisheries at the MFLNRO, regulations that would be of interest to ONA and BC Hydro.

“The Okanagan Nation Alliance remains committed to conserve, protect, enhance and restore indigenous fish and aquatic resources for today and tomorrow,” says Richard Bussanich, a Registered Professional Biologist with the ONA. “Genome BC and our collaborative team will allow for learning outcomes to assess sockeye-kokanee genetic interactions with substances such as fenugreek testosterone. Until today this was unfathomed but a good example of how modern science will complement our legacy program of salmon reintroduction to the region — this truly is a good news story.”