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Salmon Journal Articles
La Rochelle Research Conference
Sue Scott

January 10th, 2012

La Rochelle Research Conference

Summit concludes wild salmon from the southern North Atlantic could be extinct by 2040.

They gathered in La Rochelle, a thousand year old city on France’s west coast. About 130 scientists, fisheries managers, and conservationists attended the Salmon Summit from Oct. 11 to 13. The hosts, the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) and the International Council for the Explo­ration of the Sea (ICES), had worked hard to bring together the latest in research on salmon mortality at sea and their migration, including how salmon utilise currents and the ocean’s food resources.

Many of the latest discoveries were the result of new technologies, such as sophisticated tracking devices, CSI-like salmon DNA analysis, and stable isotopes. Scientists from the ‘Salmon at Sea’ (SALSEA) program took advantage of the summit to share their latest results from this international initiative. A big question is whether oceans are war­m­ing too quickly to allow salmon to adapt to the effects of climate change. On the positive side, salmon are showing signs of adap­tation by diving deeper for food, and following their food supply further north.

ASF had much to share with North American and European colleagues as well. Jonathon Carr, ASF’s Director of Research and Environment, presented the results of  our study on mortality of kelts from the Mira­michi River as they repeat their migration. Another familiar face, Dr. Fred Whoriskey, Executive Director of the Ocean Tracking Network, Dalhousie University, and former ASF scientist, presented his insights on the many years of data from tracking of smolt down rivers through estuaries into the open ocean. ASF research showed that smolt from several North American rivers, and kelt from the Miramichi, meet to travel through the Strait of Belle Isle on their way to Green­land. This has raised the speculation that there might be a social component to the migration to and from Greenland.

Still, despite remarkable advances in tracking ocean migration over the last ten years, we seem to be only slightly closer to mitigating salmon mortality at sea. A clear message managers took from the summit is the importance of getting as many quality smolt out to sea as possible and to continue protecting, restoring and improving aspects of the salmon’s environment we have the most control over—the freshwater, estuarial and coastal habitats. If the Salmon Sum­mit had one failing, it was a lack of any research presentations on the impacts of fish farms. ASF and other groups are calling for, and supporting research into, closed con­­tainment and strong regulation of salmon aquaculture. With so many studies confirming deleterious impacts on wild salmon, many participants were looking for the latest research into mitigating this threat to the survival of Atlantic salmon.

New technologies allow us to follow salmon far out to sea and identify the home rivers of specific salmon found in the ocean. ASF will continue its research on the impacts of the ocean environment on migrating sal­mon in the hope of arriving at practical solu­tions to ocean mortality. But keeping salmon populations abundant still relies on the hard work of thousands of volunteers that fix degraded freshwater habitat, remove barriers to migration and practice live-release.

Working with our regional councils and affiliated organizations in addressing these in-river issues, ASF is pushing for more government funding for salmon restoration and conservation, as well as research into mortality at sea. A certain urgency was added to this task when NASCO Secretary Malcolm Windsor warned at the close of the La Rochelle conference, “Unless we adopt conservation measures identified during the Salmon Summit, there is a real risk that southern stocks will become extinct by 2040.”

A recently released ASF commissioned study—the Gardner Pinfold socioeconomic report (see Core Value, page 64)—will alert governments to the critical need for more funding. This report cites a significant value for the recreational Atlantic salmon fishery that will grow exponentially as salmon num­bers increase. Now that is money well spent.

—Sue Scott

Sue Scott is ASF’s VP of Communications and a participant at the Salmon Summit.

If you have any comments on Atlantic salmon issues and coverage, or would like further information, contact:

Sue Scott, V.P. Communications
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