Trail biologist embarks on international salmon expedition – Boundary Creek Times

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Dan Bouillon, environmental manager at Teck Trail, goes to sea and joins a team of scientists studying the effects of climate change on migrating salmon in the Gulf of Alaska. Photo: Submitted

Great Trail biologist Dan Bouillon prepares for the trip of a lifetime.

The Teck Trail environmental manager joined the 2022 Pan-Pacific Deep Sea Winter Expedition and set sail for the North Pacific on Wednesday February 23 to study the effects of climate change on the migration of Pacific salmon.

“I still have interactions with my friends in fisheries research, so I quickly raised my hand to volunteer for this expedition when I heard they were looking for a science team,” Bouillon told The Times. “Several people have told me before that I was crazy to go on a medium-sized vessel 1,000 miles into the Gulf of Alaska in the winter.”

The expedition is led by Bouillon’s colleague, Dr. Dick Beamish, with scientists from Canada, the United States, Russia, Korea and Japan uniting to continue research into the winter salmon ecosystem. .

“The research that is ongoing is very important in understanding the factors that lead to variable ocean mortality of salmon and therefore why we sometimes get very variable and surprisingly low or high salmon returns in the spring and summer each year,” explained Bouillon, a former fisheries biologist with a master’s degree in oceanography.

Dr Beamish began the research in 2017 and led the first privately funded expedition by chartering a Russian research vessel in 2019.

“I put together a team of 21 scientists from every salmon-producing country and we probably had the first major expedition to study the winter ecology of Pacific salmon,” Beamish said. “It’s exciting in the sense that the discoveries we’re making, I think, are remarkable.”

Beamish has partnered with Dr. Brian Riddell and, in this International Year of the Salmon, will expand his research into the resilience of various salmon species in the North Pacific.

Of the millions of fertilized eggs, the survival rate dropped precipitously.

“What’s happening is we’re seeing a climate-related change in the ability of the ocean off BC to support salmon,” Beamish said. “So instead of the three percent yield of chum salmon that we got in the 60s and 70s, we get half a percent. And that half percent translates to a substantial reduction in what comes back.

“Now, how does this mortality actually occur? This is what we are studying.

The expedition consists of four research vessels, including one from Russia and the United States, the Canadian Coast Guard vessel, Sir John Franklin, and the Raw Spirit, a gillnet fishing vessel where Bouillon will conduct his research. .

“My duties aboard the vessel include identifying salmon as the fish come on board, identifying large oceanic fish species we might catch, supporting lab work and possibly assisting to the crew for the recovery of the gillnets,” explained Bouillon.

The Raw Spirit will fish two gillnets that float on the surface, each 1.5 to 2.5 km long, and a long line that sinks to the bottom and catches bottom fish.

Scientists still don’t know what factors make or break salmon’s ability to survive their first winter at sea, so winter testing is key to sampling salmon to determine their resilience.

“We are testing the idea that at the end of the first oceanic winter, this salmon will show that it has built up the energy needed to survive the winter,” Beamish said. “We actually find that some of the fish we sample just don’t have the energy to survive the rest of the winter.”

New technologies such as genomics, environmental DNA (eDNA) and ocean gliders will be used to test their potential for improving salmon and ecosystem monitoring.

Recent advances in DNA analysis allow researchers to determine the river of origin of salmon caught during the expedition, allowing scientists to understand how different salmon stocks are distributed in the North Pacific and to potentially identify compromised ecosystems for early salmon survival.

eDNA analyzes will allow researchers to assess overall biodiversity, especially for species not caught in traditional sampling gear.

The Raw Spirit team has a crew of 10 and a science team of 10, and will be at sea for approximately 25 days.

Departure time from Port Alberni was delayed a few days due to supply chain and changes to nets not arriving as expected.

“Looks like our timing is about as flawed as it could be because we’ll be heading into a storm on the way out,” Bouillon said.

“But behind every storm, there is good weather.”

Follow the progress of Bouillon and the Winter Deep Sea Pan-Pacific Expedition at yearofthesalmon.org/2022expedition.

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