The final report of the Cohen Commission Inquiry into the Decline of Fraser River Sockeye Salmon highlighted uncertainty around pathogens and disease. In this report, Justice Bruce Cohen noted that a deeper examination was needed to make accurate assessments about the range of possible impacts of pathogens on wild fish stocks. A research project, the Salmon Health Initiative: Inventory and Assessment of Health Risk of Microbes in BC’s Pacific Salmon is addressing the specific recommendations related to the study of fish pathogens and diseases made in the Cohen Commission final report.
Our current knowledge about salmon comes primarily from observation of cultured fish (both in hatcheries and in aquaculture). Consequently, there is a fair understanding of pathogens and diseases that impact salmon in freshwater hatcheries and sea-water net pens. However, we know less about pathogens affecting wild Pacific salmon.
The project is generating positive impacts for both industry and society as it addresses one of the main challenges affecting the fisheries sector. The project also builds on over a decade of investments, over $37.5 million, into genomics resources to establish the tools and knowledge base essential for this work.
Phased over five years (starting in 2012), the project will be the largest ever evaluation of the distribution and impact of potential disease agents conducted on BC Pacific Salmon (wild and hatchery). While identification of a specific microbe won’t necessarily indicate the presence of disease, it will provide a critical baseline for future monitoring activities. Rigorous analysis and categorization would determine which microbes have the potential to cause disease in salmon.
A public interest panel comprised of government, aquaculture industry, sport fishery, salmon gillnetters and environmental experts also plays an important role in determining disease agent information that is important to them and other end-users. Ongoing engagement with these vested groups will assist in the development of a strategy to effectively communicate research outcomes and help identify applications that may assist in the management of wild and cultured salmon resources.