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A salt marsh at the mouth of the Fraser River is used by juvenile salmon, other fish species, and thousands of resident and migratory birds. Photo: M. MacDuffee

Fraser River Estuary Project

The Fraser is one of the world’s great rivers. Historically it produced more salmon than any other place in North America. Its delta, which mixes fresh water with the Salish Sea, is also one of the Pacific Coast’s largest and most important estuaries. It is the rearing and feeding grounds for over 50 species of fish, many of which play a crucial role in a foodweb that links fish, birds and marine mammals across thousands of kilometers of the Pacific Ocean.

Fraser Estuary Juvenile Salmon Project

As part of our efforts to understand, mitigate, and reduce habitat impacts from industrial proposals, Raincoast is working with its partners- particularly UVic’s Baum Lab- to characterize the use of the estuary by different species of juvenile wild salmon at different times and places.

Estuaries are nurseries for young salmon; they provide food and refuge for them during a critical stage in their growth and development. Juvenile salmon from 56 Conservation Units migrate through the Fraser estuary annually, yet their timing and habitat preferences are understood only at a very coarse scale. Although the Fraser continues to support salmon, the estuary has been highly modified by human activity, and many populations are experiencing substantial declines in abundance.

In 2016 and 2017, we are conducting a spatially and temporally extensive juvenile salmon monitoring program throughout the Fraser River delta, as we survey out-migrating juvenile salmon  at 17 sites (three habitat types) across Roberts and Sturgeon Banks. Our research will advance the  understanding of juvenile salmon use in different parts of the estuary. Specifically, we will determine (1) the population origin and growth rate of Chinook fry and smolts across the estuary and the outmigration season, (2) the outmigration, residency time, and size of juvenile salmon species, and (3) the occurrence and abundance of juvenile salmon species across the delta flats (Roberts Bank, Sturgeon Bank, Iona flats) and habitat types (marsh, eelgrass and sandflats) in relation to abiotic and biotic variables. Our research will bring important insight to key hypotheses of the Salish Sea Marine Survival project including population specific information that can be directly related to recent trends in marine survival.

A day in the life of our Fraser River juvenile salmon project

Watch a video of about 3 hours of sampling (purse seining) compiled from a Go Pro time lapse photos taken at 30 second intervals. This video was taken during round 6 of 8 in mid-June on the Fraser River sand flats near Vancouver airport.

A Vision for Lower Fraser Salmon

Dozens of streamkeeper groups, First Nations, and conservation groups have been working diligently to protect Fraser River salmon. Despite their efforts, they cannot stem the damage caused by the dismantling of agencies that had a mandate to mitigate Fraser River habitat destruction. Our engagement with these groups reveals a desire for a broad vision that captures the importance of the lower Fraser River and estuary for its local and global significance. In 2016, we aim to help residents and communities create such a vision. We want salmon to remain a foundation species in the lower Fraser for generations to come and seek to ensure land use, policies, and decision-making that reflect their vital importance.

Investigate. Inform. Inspire.

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