Researchers at the University of British Columbia have teamed up with Simon Fraser University, British Columbia Institute of Technology and Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientists to monitor salt levels in more than 20 streams around the Lower Mainland.
“We know that Pacific salmon are in decline and we don’t know all the factors involved. Could too much salt in their streams be a cause?” questioned Chris Wood, a UBC professor.
“Even though adult salmon live in salt water, they grow up in fresh. When they’re ready for salt water, their whole body has to change to adapt.”
Wood continued, “There’s evidence that quite moderate salt levels at young ages have caused mortality and stunted growth.”
The research team will be measuring salt levels and review the data every two months.
“While things like climate change are known causes of salmon decline, salt could also be a factor,” said Patricia Schulte, a UBC professor.
“We know road salt use in Canada is increasing at about 2.5 per cent per year. In Vancouver, the city has 3,000 tonnes of salt in its yards for winter maintenance on streets and sidewalks.”
Schulte said as snow and ice melt, salt from roads can run into streams and may be affecting salmon.
The five-year project will be funded by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council grant and will specifically be looking at Chum and Coho salmon.
Woods said community members can do their part to help local salmon by using only a little amount of salt when salting driveways and sidewalks.