SQUAMISH (NEWS1130) – Results of the annual Brackendale Eagle Count are in.

Thor Froslev with the Brackendale Eagle Festival, who has been overseeing the count for 26 years, says the largest gathering of bald eagles in North America keeps getting smaller.

“We had 655 eagles counted, and that’s not very many… because there’s not enough salmon here,” he tells News1130.

That’s just up from the 627 sighted last year, but down from over 3,700 spotted in 1994.

“The last four years we have had fewer than 1,000, and we used to have 3,000 or 4,000 here, but because of the dwindling of the chum salmon, we are getting less and less,” Froslev says. “I feel like we are going to be the canary in the coal mine.”

Froslev says the eagles’ gradual decline in Brackendale is a negative indicator of the health of the entire ecosystem.

“It’s not just the eagles,” he says. “We’re talking about a food chain: Bears, coyotes, wolves, wolverines, raccoons, and then you talk about ducks and seagulls and ravens, and when there is just the [salmon] carcass left, the insects come and lay eggs in them, and the little American Dipper birds, they go and pick up those insects from the carcass, so it’s a whole food chain that’s being affected.”

He blames the decline in the eagles’ favourite food on lice from salmon farms. That claim was a subject of debate during the Cohen Inquiry hearings, but the 18-month federal inquiry into the collapse of BC’s salmon stocks heard the fish are also being threatened by the lethal ISA virus and climate change.

Froslev says almost 70 volunteers go out in rafts, kayaks, canoes and on foot each year to see how many eagles return.

“We have this 40-km-long area. We divide it into 20 areas, each area has a head counter and three helpers,” he explains.  “We have people that absolutely have counted the same area for 25 years.”

The count ran from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.