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Researchers investigate concerning increase in mass die-off events of salmon populations: 'Could mean more'

There is no easy solution to combat this growing problem, but awareness and involvement are key first steps.

There is no easy solution to combat this growing problem, but awareness and involvement are key first steps.

Photo Credit: iStock

New research revealed that salmon populations are experiencing mass die-off events, and it appears that multiple factors are contributing to this dire situation.

What happened?

As explained in Feed Strategy, research published in the journal Scientific Reports determined that "an increase in the frequency and severity of mass die-off events" from 2012 to 2022 has become a detriment to salmon producers.

While the sole reason for the increase "remains unclear," it is believed that a variety of natural and human-caused changes to the environment is exacerbating the issue.

Gerald Singh, an assistant professor in the School of Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria in Canada and one of the authors of the study, noted that the growing number of salmon farms with rising salmon populations "could mean more mass die-offs," as written by Feed Strategy. 

Charles Mather, a geography professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland and another one of the study's authors, pointed to the human element as a major reason for the problem.

Mather opined that "our own human attempts to control the variability of the natural world lead to an increase in damages when extraordinary events occur." As an example, it was noted that fish producers sometimes rely on physical and chemical treatments to combat sea lice, but these treatments can stress the salmon to the point of triggering a mass die-off event if implemented at the wrong time.

Singh also suggested that "a greater dependence on technology could also lead to a false sense of security and increased risk-taking, which might also contribute to an increase in mass mortality events."

Why is this important?

Salmon and other fish populations have struggled for quite some time to deal with the impact of climate-related changes on their habitats.

For instance, thousands of dead salmon were found in a dried-up river in Canada, which was a direct result of extreme drought conditions. These conditions are becoming more common as the Earth continues to overheat, leading to lower water levels and higher temperatures that can be disastrous for salmon populations.

Also, fish farming practices have presented new issues. Salmon farms have been under scrutiny for their role in the decline of wild species. There have been concerns about interbreeding between farm-raised and wild salmon, as well as the spread of diseases and parasites from farmed to wild fish. This can have a significant impact on the dwindling species, putting them at risk of extinction.

What can be done about this?

There is no easy solution to combat this growing problem, but awareness and involvement are key first steps. By educating ourselves and advocating for responsible practices in industries that affect salmon populations, we can help make a difference.

Singh noted that the study revealed a need for more standardized data collection to learn how to fight this evolving trend.

"If we want to better understand these events, we need access to finer-scale data, and that is going to require more trust between companies and researchers," he said.

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