Behind the scenes of the multi-faceted Lower Fraser Salmon Conservation Program

An update on the collaborative research, restoration, and conservation initiatives of the Lower Fraser Salmon Conservation Program.

Considering the importance of the Lower Fraser River ecologically, culturally, and economically, we developed our Lower Fraser Salmon Conservation Program back in 2016 with a goal of working towards healthy populations of wild salmon returning to the river. Through scientific research and habitat restoration to governance, the interdisciplinary program conducts a range of initiatives addressing the ecological resilience of salmon habitat in the Lower Fraser River. Considering our range of activities, we wanted to share an update of all we’ve been doing during what has been a very unusual year!

In March 2020, we published a report titled Towards a Vision for Salmon Habitat in the Lower Fraser River. The culmination of multiple years of engagement with Indigenous Nations, NGOs, community groups, and scientists, the report identifies a vision for salmon habitat in the Lower Fraser over the next 100 years. Based on community input and our findings, we recommended a series of actions to move toward this shared vision for salmon habitat in the Lower Fraser River. Recommendations that drive our research, restoration and conservation efforts include: 

  1. Collaborative efforts on habitat conservation and restoration. 
  2. Rebuilding monitoring and research capacity.
  3. Sustainable funding. 
  4. Investment in wild salmon education and youth engagement.
  5. Implementing fish-first policies.
  6. A legislated watershed plan.

Over the past year, we have been advancing initiatives that progress these recommendations. Our recent Lower Fraser Salmon Recovery Brief provides an update on our collaborative research, restoration and conservation initiatives underway. Below, we provide overviews of these efforts under each recommendation, which are further outlined in the Briefing. 

Recommendation 1. Collaborative efforts on habitat conservation and restoration 

Juvenile salmon research and habitat restoration in the Fraser River Estuary 

If you’ve already seen photos of Raincoast staff looking at juvenile salmon through a viewfinder, or a clam-shell removing material from a jetty, you can bet that Dave Scott, Raincoast’s Lower Fraser Research and Restoration Coordinator, was not far behind. Dave leads Raincoast’s Fraser River Estuary research and restoration work, which is focused on understanding juvenile salmon presence, migration and timing and use of different estuarine habitat types. In our Lower Fraser Salmon Recovery Brief, you will find more detailed updates on our work in the estuary. This includes scientific research with collaborators from the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria, examining the timing  of juvenile salmon movement, and our Fraser River Connectivity Program, a five-year restoration project to restore juvenile salmon access to salt marshes on Sturgeon Bank. With plans to create breaches in a second jetty in the Fraser Estuary, Dave and the team will continue to research juvenile salmon and improve access to critical tidal marsh habitat. Read our Wild Salmon Recovery Brief below to see our latest updates from our work in the estuary. 

While photos of our juvenile salmon research and habitat restoration work are easily visible on our social media feed, behind the scenes of the Lower Fraser Salmon Conservation Program, a variety of collaborative initiatives are occurring that are progressing our vision for salmon habitat, and the recommendations we made. 

Collaborative efforts to support the Indigenous-led Climate Adapt and Habitat Restoration Strategy

Since 2016, Raincoast’s Ross Dixon (Communications and Development Director), and more recently Kristen Walters (Lower Fraser Salmon Conservation Program Coordinator) have been collaborating with the Indigenous-led Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance, West Coast Environmental Law, and the Martin Conservation Decisions Lab at the University of British Columbia to explore pathways towards an Indignenous-led and ecosystem-based governance model that fosters the ecological resilience of the Lower Fraser River. Over the last year, the group has been supporting the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance to develop the Climate Adaptation and Fish Habitat Restoration Strategy, a Indigenous-led fish habitat restoration plan that will identify priority restoration sites in member Nation territories’. We will continue to work with LFFA and their member Nations to support the implementation of the Strategy by identifying longer term funding opportunities to support capacity building at LFFA, which will enable the advancement of the Strategy. 

In October 2020 LFFA published the Blueprint for Restoring Ecological Governance, which was developed with support from the working group. The Blueprint acts as a guide for working towards an Indigenous-led governance arrangement that prioritizes the ecological resilience of the region in consideration of the next seven generations. In October 2020, the working shared progress of our collective work at the Watersheds 2020 conference organized by the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance.

Adapting for Ecological Resilience (AFER) Network 

After identifying the need for increased communication, coordination and collaboration among organizations and individuals actively working on addressing the ecological state of the Lower Fraser River and Estuary, in March 2020 we began developing the Adapting for Ecological Resilience (AFER) Network with the Georgia Strait Alliance, Rivershed Society of BC and the Adaptation to Climate Change Team at Simon Fraser University. The Network aims to be a space for anyone engaged in activities aligned with this broad purpose.  Participants meet quarterly to discuss topics related to the Lower Fraser River and smaller working groups discuss key topics such as: Information and data-sharing, Implementing Nature-based Solutions, Watershed Education, Funding and Fiscal Tools, and Governance. To date, AFER has connected over 30 organizations, dozens of individuals, government agencies, industry and academics in discussing solutions to the most pressing ecological challenges facing the Lower Fraser River. 

The Network now has its own dedicated website, which provides participants and others with an opportunity to connect, learn, share, and stay up to date on working group meetings and events.

In Fall 2021, we will continue to progress the Network, and host the second meetings of our Nature-based Solutions, Watershed Education, and Funding Working Groups, along with launching our Governance Working Group. If you would like to participate in the Network, you can email Kristen Walters, Lower Fraser Salmon Conservation Program Coordinator and Co-Coordinator of the AFER Network at .

Recommendation 2. Rebuilding monitoring and research capacity

Given the resurgence of Indigenous guardianship, and recognized gaps in the monitoring of salmon populations and their habitats, we recommend in our Vision report that increased resources for habitat monitoring capacity be made available to First Nations to conduct this work in collaboration with non-governmental scientists and fisheries experts, while being guided by the best available science.

Over the past year, we initiated a collaborative youth habitat monitoring and stewardship program with Tsawwassen First Nation, which is in place and operational. The program provides immersive and experiential opportunities for TFN youth to connect to place, as well as opportunities for youth to become active in local field monitoring and stewardship on their traditional territory. 

The program is guided and informed by Tsawwassen traditional and ecological knowledge, blended with academic science to highlight an understanding of the local environment through different ways of being and knowing. This year has built on the successful pilot of 2020, which was run by community member Robin Buss with support from Raincoast’s Education Coordinator, Maureen Vo, and our Lower Fraser Research and Restoration lead, David Scott. In 2021, the program expanded to a cohort of 26 students. TFN Knowledge Holders, community members, Raincoast scientists will continue to lead students through a combination of indoors, land, and boat-based learning.

Recommendation 3. Sustainable funding 

To realize the shared vision of resilient salmon habitat in the Lower Fraser, we recommended the scale of funding provided for collaborative conservation and restoration efforts to be increased, and funding for Indigenous-led restoration and conservation initiatives to be prioritized. 

This recommendation came from our identification of a gap: that there was no centralized resource outlining the scale of funding habitat restoration and conservation initiatives in the Lower Fraser Region.  Considering the ecological state of the Lower Fraser and the millions of dollars that continue to be invested from funders in the Lower Fraser without apparent coordination or collaboration, this was identified as a need. To better understand what has already been spent, we researched the ‘Funding Landscape’ of the Lower Fraser Region from 2009-2019. This includes determining the scale and scope of financial investments in aquatic habitat restoration, conservation, and stewardship projects over the last decade, as well as the degree of Indigenous engagement and the rationale behind investments. We identified investments of more than $91.4 million dollars coming from all levels of government, charities, industry, and the nonprofit sector. More information on this research can be found in the Salmon Recovery Brief

Recommendation 4. Investment in wild salmon education and youth engagement

Numerous projects and programs have successfully delivered educational outreach that provides children and youth with knowledge of salmon and exposure to their habitats. However, the public remains largely unaware of the magnitude of the threats facing wild salmon and their habitats in the Lower Fraser, and the actions they can take to address these issues.

In 2020, we worked to identify funders, Indigenous knowledge holders, and others that can support and implement Guardianship and youth programs around wild salmon. In 2021, we will host a workshop to discuss the delivery of Guardianship programs in the Lower Fraser Region, and identify potential resources and expertise that can support this effort.  We also helped to bring together watershed educators through the AFER Education Working Group which was chaired by the Rivershed Society of BC.

Recommendation 5. Implementing fish-first policies and nature-based solutions

Through the AFER Network Nature-based Solutions (NbS) Working Group, we have been building relationships with local governments at both the regional and municipal scale to identify current nature-based solutions initiatives being implemented  in the Lower Fraser Region. During our first working group meeting in November 2020, the Network heard presentations from the City of Vancouver on their RainCity Strategy, the City of Surrey on the collaborative Living Dyke project, and Metro Vancouver’s 2050 Strategy, which outlines their long-term goals to implement nature-based solutions to adapt to climate change. The momentum created from the first working group meeting was followed up by individual meetings with Metro Vancouver to identify barriers to implementing nature-based solutions at a regional level. In Fall 2021, we will continue our engagement with local governments in our second meeting of the working group to provide feedback and expertise from the NGO community that will help address these barriers, which include inadequate funding, training and adoption of NbS among engineers, and relevant policy that delays implementation of projects.

Over the past year, we have built upon our two policy briefs published in 2018 that address the sustainability of current flood infrastructure, climate change adaptation, and future flood management in the Lower Fraser Region. Both briefings are supported by peer-reviewed research and publications by Riley Finn (UBC/Raincoast). Riley’s research has identified priority watersheds and locations where culvert infrastructure could be updated to allow salmon access to currently alienated habitat. We are working with Riley to produce materials that identify the opportunity for barrier removal at the watershed scale for Indigenous Nations and at a sub-regional scale for municipalities. 

Riley has also been supporting the Connected Waters program by Watershed Watch Salmon Society by using his research results to help identify outdated flood infrastructure that can be removed to reconnect salmon habitat in the Lower Fraser. If you would like to learn more, Riley’s work is further outlined in the Salmon Recovery Brief.

Recommendation 6. A legislated Fraser watershed plan

We still believe that a broader plan for the entire Fraser Watershed plan is sorely needed. Through 2020, we supported calls to reinstate some form of ecological governance in the Lower Fraser region. This included briefing elected officials on current efforts and helping to highlight the need for Indigenous engagement, as outlined in the Blueprint. A watershed plan on the scale of the Fraser is bold and ambitious and the appropriate scale needed to adapt the watershed to the pressures of a changing climate that are so evident. Watch this space. 

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