After four weeks at sea, a group of international scientists who set out to find answers about the lives of wild salmon have returned with some surprising answers.
The Russian research vessel Kaganovsky hosted roughly 20 scientists from Canada, Russia, Japan, United States and South Korea who worked to capture and study specimens at sea for answers to elusive questions about the lives of wild salmon.
The expedition was organized by Dick Beamish, a retired fisheries biologist from Vancouver Island, in celebration of the International Year of the Salmon.
At a press conference held when the ship docked in North Vancouver Monday, scientists and researchers shared what they found.
What was surprising, according to Dr. Laurie Weitkamp, a fisheries biologist with Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle was the sockeye salmon they caught were big and had full stomachs. “They had fat layers,” she said.
This was in contrast to the chum salmon comprising most of their catch, which had empty stomachs and were comparatively thin. What researchers found was the sockeye they were catching were surviving a lot better than the chum salmon, even though the sockeye salmon numbers were much lower.
Researchers aboard the ship conducted the study in a grid pattern across the Pacific Ocean between Haida Gwaii in B.C. and the Aleutian Islands.
Weitkamp said that the fish they were catching on their journey included Japanese chum salmon, Asian chum salmon and they even Columbia River salmon.
“They don’t pay attention [to international borders] so we all need to be out there and understand what we’re looking at,” Weitkamp said.
To Beamish, the project was about more than just conducting the studies of salmon in the ocean. It was about scientists and researchers from different countries coming together onto one vessel to successfully conduct a study such as this.
“What this study and [the] captain and crew and research team have done is they’ve identified the road that we need to take to make the discoveries that we need [in order] to be effective stewards in the future of changing ocean ecosystems,” Beamish said.
Chief Bob Chamberlin, vice-president of Union of BC Indian Chiefs, was on hand in North Vancouver to greet the vessel Monday. “It is with happiness that I stand here today to witness the coming in of this ship,” he said.
Chamberlin said the research is important to understanding “all of the potential impacts and stressors to a gift that the Pacific Ocean has, which is a variety of wild salmon species.”