B.C. salmon could drastically decline due to extreme temperature events: UBC report

Spawning sockeye salmon are seen making their way up the Adams River in Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park near Chase, B.C., on October 13, 2014. (Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

We’re used to seafood cooked in a pan or barbecue, but researchers say new findings show many ocean species could be heated to death in the ocean.

A new report led by researchers at the University of British Columbia shows scientists have been underestimating the effects of climate change on our oceans and the creatures that dwell within them.

"We haven't put into account these high temperature events,” said William Cheung, director of UBC’s Changing Oceans Research Unit.

The report shows extreme heat events, such as the B.C. “heat dome” in June have not been properly considered.

Scientist now say that with the normal rate of climate change and more frequent extreme heat events, ocean species could face a grim future.

According to the Changing Oceans Research Unit, 77 per cent of all global sea life could decline in the coming decades.

It also found that half of B.C.’s iconic salmon species could be wiped out by 2050.

"Writing has been on the wall now for many years of the lowered levels in our fish-bearing streams and increased temperatures,” said Richard McBride, general manager of the Finest At Sea seafood market in Victoria.

Seafood producers say they have always faced an uphill battle with government restrictions and shrinking catch allotments, and when adding a worsening climate future, their lives become even more difficult.

"Worse and worse every year,” said McBride. “It's getting bad.”

Researchers say their findings will significantly impact the fishing industry, coastal First Nations and communities which rely on the sea.

While the report focused on the future impacts of sea life, an island industry may already be playing the role of canary in the coal mine.

B.C’s Shellfish Growers Association says June’s “heat dome” caused a massive die-off on coastal farms.

According to the organization based in Courtenay, B.C., most producers suffered between 30 to 70 per cent mortality after the blazing sun cooked shorelines.

The heat wave also coincided with a low tide.

"Unfortunately, we understand that we can expect these events to happen more frequently and be more intense,” said Jim Russell with the Shellfish Growers Association. “Not good news for shellfish.”

UBC researchers say if we want to avoid their shocking, and not so distant predictions, two things need to happen.

Government must be able to implement local and up-to-the-hour fishing restrictions to save at risk species. And, the entire planet needs to focus on reducing climate change impacts, which are helping to heat oceans.