British Columbia is home to 25,725-kilometre of pristine coastline, teeming with thousands of aquatic species across the marine and estuarine environment. Protection of such precious biodiversity hinges on a reliable monitoring program that can provide accurate estimates of distribution patterns and population size. Unfortunately, inaccurate estimates of population survival and productivity have contributed to the collapse of the Pacific salmon fisheries. The abundance of each salmon population is assessed annually based on the number of upmigrating adult salmon and commercial catches. To date, the most reliable and accurate enumeration of adult spawning salmon still requires labour-intensive human counters at enumeration facilities. As this is limited to a handful of indicator populations, it can lead to biased assessments and poor fisheries management. Improvements in the enumeration processes can provide better estimates and management of at-risk populations.
Researchers from Simon Fraser University and Gitanyow Fisheries Authority aim to develop a genomic tool to quantify the number of upmigrating salmon based on environmental DNA (eDNA) present in water samples. This eDNA assay’s accuracy will be evaluated and validated across five species of Pacific salmon by comparing to the traditional counts conducted at the Kitwanga Enumeration Facility. In two years, the team anticipates that this genomic tool can enhance the efficiency of enumerating upmigrating salmon and expand the geographical range of assessments to remote areas across BC. The results will be shared to government stakeholders including the BC Ministry of Environment and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, to help with the ongoing conservation effort of these iconic species.