VICTORIA -- A new report is out on the health of B.C.’s southern Chinook salmon population, and findings are grim.

The report says four populations are moving towards extinction and three are being threatened with extinction. One of the threats to the wild Chinook population is large-scale fish hatcheries.

“They are really struggling,” said John Reynolds, professor of ecology at Simon Fraser University and the chair of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

Findings in a new report by COSEWIC, which is an independent group of scientists and experts from across the country, point a finger at the usual suspects – climate change, fish farms and overfishing – as well as at a new threat: large-scale fish hatcheries.

“The big, industrial ones that are releasing millions of fish each year into the sea, they are causing a lot of problems that are very well documented for wild fish,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds found that these hatchery fish create competition for wild Chinook and can create challenges for future generations of fish.

“They will interbreed and then the gene pool of the wild fish basically gets contaminated with these genes that are often with fish that did not evolve there and are not adapted to those particular streams,” said Reynolds. “That can cause a reduction in the survival of the wild fish.”

Jeffery Young is a senior science and policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation. He says the organization has been concerned about Chinook salmon – and wild salmon more generally – for years.

“This is quite troubling news,” he said. “It’s concerning for the Chinook themselves, but it also is a problem because our southern resident killer whales are Chinook salmon eaters. It’s their primary food source and they’re also endangered.”

Reynolds said it’s large hatcheries, in particular, that require closer scrutiny. Smaller hatcheries are not the problem, he said.

“Some are absolutely vital for keeping endangered salmon on life support,” said the SFU professor. “If it wasn’t for some of the small hatcheries that keep the genetic stalk going, we probably wouldn’t even have them.”