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Salmon fry pool in the estuaries of the Fraser River.

Fraser River Estuary Research

Our research in the Fraser River estuary is focused on understanding juvenile salmon presence, migration timing and use of different estuary habitats. Our research will inform decisions on how to maintain the estuary’s ecological resilience for salmon and broader food webs. This work includes a five-year restoration project to restore salmon access to salt marshes on Sturgeon Bank.

Fraser River estuary juvenile salmon research 

As part of our efforts to understand, mitigate, and reduce habitat loss, Raincoast is working with its partners, including UVic’s Baum Lab, UBC’s Salmon Conservation & Ecology Lab, UBC’s Conservation Decisions Lab, to characterize the use of the estuary by different species of juvenile salmon at different times and places. We also work with Fisheries & Oceans Canada to characterize the exposure of juvenile Chinook salmon to contaminants in the lower Fraser River. 

Since 2016, we have worked in the lower Fraser River and the delta of Roberts and Sturgeon Banks to survey out-migrating juvenile salmon arriving from upper and lower parts of the Fraser watershed. Our research is advancing the understanding of juvenile salmon use in different estuary habitats including the size and growth rate of Chinook fry and smolts, arrival and residency times, and migration patterns of different populations.

To date, we have caught more than 100,000 fish from 40+ different species, including more than 10,000 juvenile salmon. We have collected 1000+ tissue samples from juvenile Chinook for genetic stock identification that allows us to determine population-specific trends.  Our first publication characterizing estuary use of salmon in different habitats can be found here.

Prioritizing threat management to recover species in the Fraser River estuary

With partners at UBC (Martin Conservation Decisions Lab) and UVic (Baum Lab), we have undertaken a ‘threat management assessment’ of more than 100 species in the Fraser River estuary.  Our goal was to determine the management actions required to ensure the long-term resilience of threatened and endangered wildlife.

The approach uses novel techniques in conservation decision science to identify the most cost-effective management actions to meet species recovery goals.  The project will also produce a published manuscript (Summer 2020) and Conservation Prospectus that identifies priority actions needed to ensure the resilience of the Fraser River Estuary’s natural assets (plants, animals and habitat) into the future. In this highly contested estuary with diverse public and private interests and multiple threats, demonstrating the return-on-investment from protecting natural assets is essential. Through a rich set of collaborators and their networks, pathways for implementing these priority management actions will be developed.