The number of visits by the department of fisheries and oceans (DFO) to salmon spawning streams in the province is at an all-time low, according to SFU researchers.

A recent study published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences and authored by SFU professor John Reynolds and PhD candidate Michael Price found that the DFO is not monitoring enough streams on the north and central coasts to assess salmon health.

“I knew monitoring was declining, but I was very surprised at how few streams are now being monitored,” Reynolds told The Peak. “There are huge black holes in our understanding of how many populations are doing, including many that we suspect are in trouble.”

The researchers found that despite the government’s ambitious plan for salmon conservation setout in the Wild Salmon Policy in 2005, the monitoring of salmon streams in BC has dipped lower than ever before. As a result, the DFO lacks the data to gauge the status of nearly half of all the province’s coastal salmon populations.

The number of streams being monitored dropped dramatically from 1,533 streams in the mid-1980s to an all-time low of 476 streams being monitored in 2014 — a 70% reduction. That year, the number of spawning salmon were measured by surveying only half of all spawning locations.

The results of the study mean that the knowledge that informs salmon conservation efforts is lacking, the researchers concluded.

This summer, lower-than-expected sockeye returns closed fisheries on both the Fraser and Skeena rivers.

The study made a number of recommendations to the federal government, including urging the DFO to meet the monitoring standards contained in its Wild Salmon Policy which aims to make salmon conservation the “highest priority for resource management.”

It calls on the government to immediately develop a plan to implement the policy and develop a supportive fund to ensure that the DFO is working towards the initiative.

“Salmon are the lifeblood of our streams. They feed other species like eagles and bears, and our research has shown that their carcasses fertilize plants and ​help support diverse populations of birds,” noted Reynolds.

“Native people on the west coast have always depended strongly on these fish, with cultural traditions that are deeply embedded in both salmon and their central role in coastal and stream ecosystems. There are also huge economic benefits from commercial and recreational fisheries, as well as tourism.”

“If you care about BC’s natural beauty and wilderness, you have to care about salmon,” Reynolds added. “We did this study in the spirit of helping DFO and everyone else who has a stake in managing and benefiting from healthy salmon populations.”