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AW - Underwater close up of a salmon head

Wild Salmon Program

Misty MacDuffee, Biologist, Wild Salmon Program Director
Dave Scott, Biologist, Lower Fraser Research and Restoration Coordinator

Kristen Walters, Biologist, Lower Fraser River Program Coordinator

Pacific salmon are foundation species in British Columbia’s coastal ecosystems. For millions of years, they have journeyed between the ocean and the streams, rivers and lakes of their natal watersheds.  In every life stage -from eggs to juveniles to adults- they are important food sources for marine, terrestrial and avian wildlife. Inherent in their lifecycle, is the provision of nutrients to the ecosystem when they return to spawn and die.

Pacific salmon are ‘foundation’ species. This is different from the more familiar term keystone species. A keystone species has an influence on its environment that is disproportionate to its abundance. Like the keystone in a masonry arch, its removal can have a strong effect on the surrounding community. In the Pacific northwest, species like sea stars, sea otters, and wolves are considered keystone species.

A foundation species, on the other hand, is important because of the role it plays due to its sheer biomass in the ecosystem, and the strong influence this has on structuring a community. Foundation species support ecosystem structure, process and organisms from the bottom up. Foundation species can be plants or animals with many species relying on them, but not disproportionately to their abundance, it’s because of their abundance. On the Pacific Northwest coast, the collective group of salmon species (chum, pink, etc), herring, and giant kelp are examples of foundation species.

Raincoast’s Wild Salmon Program is focused on ensuring that BC’s 450+ unique and irreplaceable Conservation Units of wild salmon persist over their historic range at spawner abundance levels suitable to meet the needs of wildlife and ecosystems. Conservation Units consist of thousands of spawning populations from hundreds of coastal rivers and watersheds across BC.

BC salmon face multiple obstacles. Domestic and international harvest, habitat loss (including watershed development), interactions with hatchery and cultured salmon and climate change can individually and cumulatively reduce the abundance of spawning salmon. We address these issues through academic, community, policy and on-the-ground initiatives.

Raincoast’s Work

Raincoast’s wild salmon initiatives are the product of coordinated strategies between diverse groups including First Nations, coastal communities, academic institutions (such as UVic, UBC and SFU) and other NGOs. Our policy recommendations and advocacy on behalf of salmon conservation and wildlife are informed by our research.

Some current projects are:

Fraser Estuary Research

A vision for salmon habitat

Habitat Restoration

Stop Terminal 2 Expansion

Salmon Papers →

Salmon Reports →

Support Raincoast’s Salmon Conservation Efforts

Latest News

Lia Chalifour walks through the tall grass of the Fraser Estuary hauling her equipment for the salmon ear bone study.

Unpacking new research on the Fraser Estuary’s importance to Chinook salmon

A new paper, “Chinook salmon exhibit long-term rearing and early marine growth in the Fraser River, B.C., a large urban estuary,” has highlighted the importance of the Fraser estuary as critical habitat for Chinook salmon. The researchers used salmon ear bones, or otoliths, to study how juvenile salmon were using the Fraser estuary, and found […]

Two people holding a net while doing fish research on a cloudy day

Fraser River juvenile salmon, upstream and in the estuary

Wild Salmon Research Assistant, Paige Roper, shares about Raincoast’s recent work in the Harrison River.

A juvenile Chinook salmon is measured in a clear container with water with the estuary in the background.

Otolith study confirms Harrison Chinook salmon rely on the Fraser River Estuary for early growth

Chinook salmon from the Harrison River, which was declared Canada’s first Salmon Stronghold, do something unique; rather than growing in their home lake and river system for the first year or more as many other salmon do, these fish go on a great adventure.

Young woman wearing a mask looking out at the ocean while standing on a sail boat.

Join us for a webinar on conservation in action

Join us Wednesday April 7 at 1pm Pacific for Coastal Insights as we look at key conservation issues facing wildlife and their habitat along BC’s coast. The lesson will also discuss how we can take action to protect and sustain the Salish Sea.

Underwater photo of 4 Salmon smolts.

An influx of information

Lauren Mitchell, intern on Raincoast’s wild salmon team, is researching how to best to go about calculating the number of salmon the Lower Fraser River and estuary are able to support.

Past projects

a salmon half out of the water while trying to swim upstreamRaincoast’s 2008 Ghost Runs paper (CJFAS) and 2017 update (CJFAS) found that salmon runs have repeatedly failed to meet their escapement targets – meaning that not enough fish are returning to spawn

Raincoast researcher studies a salmon bearing streamRaincoast’s Small Stream Surveys document the existence of hundreds of small streams that support salmon, yet are not catalogued federally or provincially.

In paMeasuring a fish on a small gridrtnership with SFU, the Chum & Coho Stream Ecology project found that juvenile coho abundance is up to 3x higher in streams that have pink and chum runs compared to streams that don’t.

In paA small fry covered in parasitesrtnership with SFU and the UVic, the Juvenile Salmon Ecology Project found that salmon farms on the migration routes of juvenile salmon disrupt survival of sockeye, chum and pink salmon.