Vancouver, BC – It has been over fifteen years since southern BC commercial fisheries for Coho salmon contributed significantly to the province’s largest agri-food export, seafood, which provides $2.2 billion in direct industry revenues annually to the province. Coho salmon, previously one of the most highly valued species in BC, began to suffer serious declines in 1989 due to a productivity drop and high harvest rates to the point where the commercial fishery for Coho salmon was essentially closed in 1997. This happened because of concerns about stocks and ‘marked or hatchery-only’ recreational fisheries were instituted as a wild Coho salmon conservation measure in southern BC.
From 1998 to 2007, survival rates for hatchery raised Coho salmon in the ocean were at low levels, at less than a 5% return rate for tagged smolts: processes associated with the poor early marine survival remained unidentified. However, marine climatic changes were implicated, and hatchery fish were found to be less able than wild fish to survive. A substantial research project led by Dr. William Davidson of Simon Fraser University (SFU) and Dr. Louis Bernatchez of Université Laval (Laval) is aiming to use recently available genomics tools to address challenges in improved management and the re-evaluation of hatchery / wild interactions of Coho salmon.
The project, entitled Enhancing Production in Coho: Culture, Community, Catch (EPIC4) represents an investment of $9.9 million by Genome BC, Genome Canada, Genome Quebec and other partners. The results of the work will hopefully lead to an economically viable, land-based Coho salmon fishery and aquaculture industry in BC serving both domestic and export markets, bringing jobs and economic benefits to communities and enhancing Canada’s role as a world leader in fisheries and aquaculture genomics. The outcomes of the project should also be transferable to other species of Pacific salmon and salmonids from other regions of Canada.
“Our research team from SFU, Laval, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the University of Victoria, the University of British Columbia, Vancouver Island University and Universidad de Chile anticipates that EPIC4 will transform how Coho salmon are managed on the West Coast, and that the knowledge gained from this work will improve the production of healthy fish that are resilient in the face of pathogens and climate change impacts,” says Dr. Davidson, Professor, Department of Molecular Biology & Biochemistry, SFU. “This project builds on investments made by Genome BC and Genome Canada on previous salmon genomics projects and will see the expertise developed in BC translated into practical applications.”
The interdisciplinary team of natural and social scientists will sequence the Coho salmon genome, document the genetic diversity of thousands of individuals and determine how Coho salmon from different geographic regions vary genetically. They will apply newly found knowledge to help sustain the wild Coho salmon fisheries, improve hatchery production of the species, and help develop BC’s Coho salmon land-based aquaculture industry to make it more productive. Working with stakeholders, EPIC4 will explore the economic, institutional, regulatory, and social-ecological opportunities for these tools to optimize their deployment in real-world settings.
“This project will deliver the genomic resources and tools required for better stock identification, improved fisheries management, a more effective hatchery system, and growth of the nascent land-based Coho salmon aquaculture industry in Canada,” says Dr. Alan Winter, President and CEO of Genome BC. “This is the best team for the job and they will provide answers needed to advance this economic driver.”
Fisheries and aquaculture represent billions of dollars in industry to Canada, supporting many thousands of jobs across the country. With 25 per cent of the world’s coastline and 16 per cent of the world’s fresh water, the importance of fisheries to Canada, and the opportunity this project represents for Canada is enormous. The project was funded through Genome Canada’s 2014 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition: Genomics and Feeding the Future. In addition to Genome BC, Genome Canada and Genome Quebec, other funding partners include the Pacific Salmon Foundation, Target Marine Hatcheries/Golden Eagle Aquaculture, Spring Salmon LP, Aquainnovo, Ressources Aquatiques Quebec, Thermo Fisher Scientific, IBIS, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the University of Victoria.