Salmon researchers puzzled by quick change in fish numbers

Where did the salmon go?

A trawl net captured three species of salmon off southern Vancouver Island Sunday, marking success after several days without any sign of salmon during a scientific expedition.

Four coho, three chum and one sockeye were pulled in just west of the 200-mile limit, said Nanaimo’s Richard Beamish, one of the organizers of a winter scientific expedition to learn more about salmon as many stocks are declining.

“The catch of three species is unexpected, particularly the sockeye which we would expect to be much father north, unless the DNA shows that it is a Harrison River sockeye which has a different life history than all other Fraser River sockeye salmon,” Beamish said.

“However, whenever we say something was unexpected, the reality is that almost all of our observations are new, meaning we have healthy imaginations.”

The expedition is expected to return to Victoria on Tuesday. The team of Canadian and Russian scientists left Point Hope Maritime on March 11 and hauled in hundreds of salmon before hitting a lull in recent days.

The DNA in the latest catch and other salmon will be analyzed, allowing researchers to “compare the specific populations with the oceanography and begin to interpret why they are where they are,” Beamish said.

“Importantly, we also collect information about health and condition which we hope will help us understand why these individuals have survived to be out here now when most of their brothers and sisters never made it this far.”

“It is a little difficult for people to accept that scientifically, no catch is sometimes as important as large catches. I think this is the case here,” said Beamish.

“We had relatively large catches of pink, chum and coho early in the survey and there were no salmon in the same area a few weeks later.”

It is clear that there are probably large schools of species such as coho that are moving over large areas in response to some factor, Beamish said.

The expedition aims to help better predict subsequent salmon returns and to understand factors affecting the survival of salmon salmon through winter. The first winter at sea is seen as an indicator of future survival.

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