Return of the sockeyeCumulative 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, 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 Okanagan Nation Alliance. “Genome BC and our collaborative team will allow for learning outcomes to assess sockeye-kokanee genetic interactions. 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.”

“This project demonstrates the willingness of stakeholders to collaborate and partner to improve fisheries outcomes,” says Dr. Alan Winter, President and CEO of Genome BC. “Genome BC is proud to play a catalytic role in bringing these groups together in an effort to bring new knowledge to freshwater fisheries management in BC.”

This project, valued at $285,000 was funded through Genome BC’s User Partnership Program (UPP). UPP is designed to form partnerships with users to find research solutions that address the needs of the key sectors of the BC economy and directly connect receptors in BC economic sectors to new products, services, and practices that arise from genomics-related research. The UPP represents an initial investment of $9M for new research projects, with $3M from Genome BC. The remaining funds are provided by end-user stakeholders and other co-funders.

Genome British Columbia is a catalyst for the life sciences cluster on Canada’s West Coast, and manages a cumulative portfolio of over $660M in 211 research projects and science and technology platforms. Working with governments, academia and industry across sectors such as forestry, fisheries, agriculture, environment, bioenergy, mining and human health, the goal of the organization is to generate social and economic benefits for British Columbia and Canada. Genome BC is supported by the Province of British Columbia, the Government of Canada through Genome Canada and Western Economic Diversification Canada and more than 300 international public and private co-funding partners.