"Revolutionary advances are being made in the study of salmon" according to Brian Riddell, President of the non-profit Pacific Salmon Foundation, when he spoke at the Cedars Inn in Gibsons on March 25.  The most recent and exciting scientific initiatives involve smolt tagging and genomics.

Riddell set the stage for our understanding of these exciting developments by briefly describing past research methods and some of the learnings to date. 

Although much concern has been voiced about the loss of Pacific salmon Riddell stated that less than 10% of the Pacific salmon population has become extinct. 

The salmon population is highly resilient because they live in distinct genetic and geographic populations.  He gave examples of the recovery of the salmon populations in rivers destroyed by Mt. St. Helen's eruption.   He told of specific adaptations to geography such as the salmon which climb the highest up the Fraser to spawn in Chilco Lake.  These fish have superior aerobic capacity and heart function. There are also examples in some salmon populations of disease resistance and an evolution of parasite and host relationships. 

Riddell said that because the salmons' diversity is linked to their various habitats we need to protect conservation units of groups of streams and their genetically distinct populations.

Riddell admitted that there were many unsolved questions about salmon mortality which led to the Cohen Commission Report of October 2013.  He stated that Alexandra Morton and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were pursuing two different methods in studying the salmon virus which were never compared.  He stated that two recent research initiatives hold the key to important evidence regarding salmon mortality in the streams and in the Strait of Georgia ( see Strait of Georgia: Resoring a Lost Fishery and VIDEO BELOW).

Smolt Tagging

The first is the smolt tagging research currently underway.  Very tiny auditory tags have been developed.  These auditory biological markers will show the linkage between microbes and host immunity of smolts en route to the ocean.  The marked smolts can also be tracked throughout the Strait of Georgia by underwater cables laid at both ends of the Strait.  The University of Victoria announced on March 25 that they will lay a second cable north of Campbell River.

Genomic Research

The second and most dramatic announcement of the evening was the four-year twenty million dollar project in genomic research called the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project. The Pacific Salmon Foundation has drawn together thirty-seven partners from industry, Indian bands and universities in Canada and the U.S.A. to support this scientific research.  

Just as the use of DNA in human research made a great leap forward in scientific understanding of animals so has the human genome project led to the promise of amazing advances in learning by studying animal genomes.  Genomic signatures can predict the salmon migration and spawning results in micro arrays.  A micro array of genetic information from salmon could result in as many as 32 thousand assays per day showing the microbial health and origin of salmon. 

For further information Riddell recommended the website of the Pacific Salmon Foundation, and Genome BC.