wild salmon

Scientists set sail to unlock salmon secrets


“We are all anxious to see and learn about the findings, so that we can better tackle the problems together,” John Paul Fraser, executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers.

By Fabian Dawson
SeaWestNews

Berthed at Vancouver’s Ballantyne Pier under wintry skies, the MV Professor Kaganovsky, a veteran of the high seas, does not look like much at first glance.

But beyond its peeling paint and sea scars, is a treasure trove of scientific minds with a singular mission to find out what we don’t know about Pacific salmon.

“What we need to know most about Pacific salmon, we mostly don’t know” said Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientist emeritus Dr. Dick Beamish, the architect of the project.

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John Paul Fraser, the executive director of the BCSFA (standing left), Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientist emeritus Dr. Dick Beamish (standing right), Jonathon Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. (seated left) and Lana Popham, B.C.’s Minister of Agriculture (seated right), at a gathering on board MV Professor Kaganovsky

“This is the first comprehensive study of the distribution, abundance and stock composition of Pacific salmon in the Gulf of Alaska in the winter,” said Dr. Beamish.

The region is a feeding ground where the majority of Pacific salmon migrate to in the winter, hence the timing, said Dr. Beamish, describing the $1.3 million study as a “privately organized expedition funded by agencies, governments and private donors.”

In addition to private donations, Ottawa kicked in $250,000, the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) contributed $200,000, The Pacific Salmon Foundation and the Pacific Salmon Commission came up with $250,000 and Victoria provided $75,000.

The MV Professor Kaganovsky set sail today on its five-week mission with 21 scientific personnel from Japan, Korea, Russia, the United States and Canada, on board.

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The 62-metre Russian research vessel, MV Professor Kaganovsky, at Vancouver’s Ballantyne Pier.

“BC’s salmon farmers are proud to be a founding sponsor of this expedition…we are all anxious to see and learn about the findings, so that we can better tackle the problems together,” said John Paul Fraser, the executive director of the BCSFA.

“As Dick (Dr. Beamish) says, there’s a ‘black box’ out there in the North Pacific that we have shed no light on.

“And because of Dick’s brilliance and perseverance, the salmon community is coming together to cast a ‘Beamish’ of light on the unknown challenges the salmon face,” he said after a gathering on-board the 62-metre Russian research vessel to see the scientists off.

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The salmon community gathered on board the MV Professor Kaganovsky before it set sail for the Gulf of Alaska on Saturday.

“Canada is proud to work with international partners in this groundbreaking science research expedition to better understand the health of Pacific salmon populations and to create solutions for supporting their recovery,” said Jonathon Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.

Lana Popham, B.C.’s Minister of Agriculture, who introduced herself as the ‘Fish Minister’ to the gathering, said that over the next several weeks, the scientists will trawl for salmon, identify their origins using DNA samples and use the data to estimate the abundance of salmon in the region, their general physiological fitness and condition.

“We are always looking at ways to protect our wild salmon and this study will provide us with crucial information as we continue to support this important resource for British Columbia,” she said.

The expedition is one of the signature projects of the International Year of the Salmon, an initiative to establish new hemispheric-scale partnerships to address challenges facing salmon.

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Mark Saunders, director of the International Year of the Salmon – Pacific Region.

“The future of salmon in this time of rapid change will depend on our ability to find solutions through broad collaboration at local and hemispheric scales,” said Mark Saunders, director of the International Year of the Salmon – Pacific Region.

“The Gulf of Alaska Expedition embodies this, and we are excited to have the Province of B.C. engaged in this International Year of the Salmon initiative.”

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