Fisheries management

Leveraging science, policy, and partnerships in pursuit of place-based sustainable salmon fisheries.

Photo by Fernando Lessa.

For more than a century, fishing pressure has contributed to the decline of wild salmon.  One reason for this is the nature of ocean fisheries that intercept salmon while migrating to their rivers of origin. Populations of salmon with varying degrees of abundance often migrate together.

When caught in the ocean, it’s hard to know which populations of salmon you are harvesting. In this way, salmon populations can be inadvertently overharvested, and decline.  We use a comprehensive approach to inform actions that benefit salmon ecosystems in a changing climate.

Two sockeye salmon swimming in a river.
Photo by Fernando Lessa.
Salmon school in the shallows, clearly seen from above, on a sandy region of the Fraser River, mountains looming in the background.
Photo by Fernando Lessa.

More than a numbers game

Fisheries can affect more than just the abundance of salmon. They can make fish smaller and younger; they can decrease genetic diversity; they can change the time salmon return to spawn. They can also influence the number of eggs a salmon lays, and whether the fry from those eggs survive to become adult salmon. Ultimately, unsustainable fisheries can influence many factors that prevent the recovery of wild salmon.

While harvest is just one of many threats facing these fish, it is one that we have considerable control over. Raincoast works to change unsustainable fishing practices that drive the decline in salmon abundance and the problem of smaller and younger salmon.

How we advance sustainable fisheries

Raincoast engages in technical aspects of salmon management, fisheries harvest, and recovery planning. We do this independently and as part of the Marine Conservation Caucus, a collaborative group of scientists and conservationists from several member organizations that engage with Fisheries and Oceans Canada on fisheries management. As a part of this caucus, Raincoast advocates for alternatives to unsustainable fishing practices, protection of wild salmon from hatcheries, and considering the needs of wildlife in fisheries decisions.

Multiple Chinook salmon underwater.
Photo by Fernando Lessa.
Two tiny fish float int he dark green sea.
Photo by Fernando Lessa.

Our view on hatcheries

Wild salmon require wild rivers. Since the 1970s, hatcheries have been used to prop up commercial and recreational fisheries. Hatcheries were the response to the problem of overfishing and habitat destruction, the root causes of the initial salmon decline. 

The original belief behind hatcheries was that consumer demand for salmon could be met while simultaneously rebuilding depleted populations. However, this goal has proved elusive, and hatchery practices often harm the wild fish they purport to help.

Hatcheries can decrease the genetic diversity of salmon populations. Hatchery fish can [also] compete with wild fish in the ocean and disrupt marine food webs.

Lastly, hatchery production complicates fisheries. When less abundant wild salmon are caught alongside plentiful hatchery fish, wild salmon are overharvested. Hatcheries can be an effective short-term tool to support recovery for at-risk populations, but they should be closed once recovery objectives have been met, and only used to support fisheries in limited places.

Salmon for ecosystems

If the wildlife that depend on salmon are to be considered when harvest decisions are made, one of the most important shifts needed is an ecosystem-based approach. Such decision- making would incorporate the importance of salmon to food webs that contribute essential food and nutrients to forests, rivers, and the ocean. In many cases, simply letting more fish spawn would meet ecosystem objectives.

Equally, salmon management should be “place-based,” a concept that recognizes the unique attributes of each watershed where salmon spawn, rear, and adapt to the local conditions. This process makes each salmon population unique.

Overhead photo of four killer whales swimming together.
Photo by Raincoast Conservation Foundation, taken under SARA Research License XMMS-2-2022.

Recent articles

Grizzly sitting on a road.

New research shows how human disturbance keeps grizzlies from their salmon

A new study found that disturbance in riparian areas disrupts predator-prey interactions between grizzly bears and salmon.
Allison Dennert standing on a beach in front of the ocean on a cloudy day. She is wearing a mustard coloured jacket.

Meet Allison Dennert, Raincoast’s new Quantitative Salmon Ecologist

Allison Dennert has joined our Wild Salmon Program team as a Quantitative Salmon Ecologist.
Douglas aster - a purple flower with green leaves.

New research proves that nutrients from the sea can increase terrestrial plant growth and reproduction

Newly published research from Simon Fraser University shows that salmon and marine plants increase both growth and reproduction in terrestrial plants.
A large number of fishing boats squeeze into a small area off the coast of Alaska.

The Gauntlet, a salmon story foretold

World Fish Migration Day celebrates the wonders of migratory fish and raises awareness of the many obstacles that can prevent them from reaching destinations in the rivers and the spawning grounds they seek.
Deceased salmon in a river after spawning.

An autumn spent tracking bald eagles and spawning salmon

Kristen Walters, Raincoast’s Lower Fraser River Salmon Conservation Program Coordinator, shares about her experience in the field.
A salmon in a stream, with four partner logos, Watershed Watch, David Suzuki Foundation, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, and Raincoast.

Backgrounder on Canada’s Pacific salmon fishery losing its Marine Stewardship Council certification

What is the Marine Stewardship Council? The Marine Stewardship Council, or “MSC”, is an international, independent non-profit organization which sets a standard for sustainable fishing. Fisheries that wish to demonstrate they are well-managed and sustainable compared to the science-based MSC standards are assessed by a team of experts who are independent of both the fishery…