SALSEA-Merge is large European funded project that Matís has participated in. Over the past two decades, an increasing proportion of North Atlantic salmon are dying at sea during their oceanic feeding migration. Arguably the greatest challenge in salmon conservation is to gain insight into the spatial and ecological use of the marine environment by different regional and river stocks.
The SALSEA-Merge project included partners from nine European nations, and was designed to advance our understanding of oceanic-scale, ecological and ecosystem processes.
A part of the project in which Matis was heavily involved, comprised producing genetic profiles for some 26,813 salmon from 467 locations, in 284 rivers across Europe. This has enabled the identification of stocks from individual rivers and regions, which is of direct and immense practical value to the river manager. Many of the questions that managers deal with on a day-to-day basis are confused by the lack of detail in relation to the number of populations contained either within a large river system or within a coastal region. Decisions in relation to commercial exploitation of fish, sport fisheries exploitation and the overall impact of planned developments in salmon catchments will be greatly improved by the availability of a genetic assignment methodology. Harvest decisions will become clearer as a result of the techniques developed in SALSEA-Merge and in the case of the remaining commercial fisheries for wild salmon, assessments of stock composition will facilitate, for the first time, the management of discrete stocks.
The genetic techniques developed within SALSEA-Merge have also shown their ability to separate wild stocks from escaped farmed stocks caught at sea. This ability to quickly separate out the two forms of salmon will add greatly to the manager’s ability to assess the overall impact of fish farm escapes on ocean feeding grounds and also estimate the levels of returning adults of farmed origin entering wild salmon rivers and their impacts on wild spawning stocks. In the context of large juvenile pen rearing facilities in freshwater lakes, the new genetic assignment tools will facilitate an assessment of the level of impact of leakage/escapes from these net pens into the neighboring freshwater systems.