Wild Salmon Program

Using science, policy, and restoration to improve the health of pacific salmon.

Photo by Fernando Lessa.

Raincoast’s Wild Salmon Program is focused on ensuring that wild salmon thrive across their historic range at abundance levels that sustain wildlife and communities. The Wild Salmon Program addresses threats facing the survival of wild salmon. We offer solutions to the systemic problems that drive short-sighted and commodity-based decisions on the land, in the water, and over resources, by all levels of government. 

Underwater photo of 4 Salmon smolts.
Photo by Fernando Lessa.
A school of salmon as seen from below in the Fraser River.
Photo by Fernando Lessa.

Salmon are the foundation of who we are 

Pacific salmon are a foundation species. Different from a keystone species, a foundation species is important because of the role it plays due to its sheer biomass in the ecosystem, and the strong influence this has on structuring an ecological community. Foundation species support ecosystems from the bottom up. 

Pacific Salmon support dozens of species of marine life out in the open ocean, and even more in their home waters where they come back to spawn. They also support the people of the Pacific Northwest, and have done so for thousands of years. Salmon are part of the ecological and cultural fabric of our coast.

A wild salmon crisis 

British Columbia is in an unprecedented wild salmon crisis. Intensified by a warming North Pacific Ocean, more extreme aquatic conditions, decades of habitat loss, overharvesting, as well as fish farm and hatchery impacts, many wild salmon populations in BC are experiencing low to record low returns. 

Despite reductions in fishing pressure over the last several decades, the situation for many populations is not improving. The reasons for this are complex, but recovery is hampered by decades of frontier resource ideology that has compromised the watersheds, the rivers, and the fish themselves. Fisheries that harvested wild salmon to their limits are now sustained by hatcheries. Climate change is now intensifying the consequences of these actions. 

Although wild salmon face unparalleled threats, there are more people committed to, and concerned about, wild salmon recovery than ever before. Almost 90% of BC residents are worried about the future of salmon. If we work together, we can restore healthy, abundant populations of wild spawning salmon to wild rivers in British Columbia.

Fraser River Chum salmon settle on the rocks near the bottom under a shadow.
Photo by April Bencze / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

Photo by Fernando Lessa

A place-based approach

Over the last decade, we have been filling a gap left by the federal and provincial governments to support the recovery of wild salmon and their habitats in all their life stages, from the headwaters of their spawning grounds to the deep waters of their marine rearing grounds. We have completed habitat restoration, championed estuary protection, undertaken policy analysis, led research, furthered fisheries reform, and advanced ideas for new governance models. The success of this work is rooted in collaboration with Indigenous Nations, government agencies, researchers, NGOs, industry, and community groups.

The challenges that salmon face vary from place to place and from species to species. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution for salmon recovery. This is why we believe that a place-based approach, focused on the watersheds where salmon spawn and adapt, and people in those places, is the best way forward.

Rigorous scientific research 

Raincoast’s scientists have published over 30 peer-reviewed scientific papers on salmonids in a variety of academic journals. Increasingly, we use a two-eyed seeing approach which weaves academic science with Indigenous knowledge to better understand the wildlife and ecosystems of coastal British Columbia. 

We want to better understand Pacific salmon to fill information gaps and advance their recovery and long-term persistence. Embracing this vision of wild salmon on the landscape requires consideration of salmon beyond their commodity value as catch, and embrace their value as spawning salmon in rivers, feeding wildlife, nourishing ecosystems, and influencing terrestrial landscapes.

School of juvenile salmon under water.
Photo by Fernando Lessa.

Recent articles

Two killer whales surfacing near the ocean.

[Not] Living with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion

Raincoast scientists comment on the opening of the Trans Mountain pipeline.
A view of the mountains over Vancouver, a layer of smog in the mid ground, and ships at rest in the foreground of the Salish Sea.

Building a resilient funding and decision-making structure for the Lower Fraser

Our new report highlights global case studies for the development of a comprehensive, place-based conservation strategy in the Lower Fraser.
Five pacific salmon artwork on a white background.

Wild Salmon Day: Inspiring hope and action

In celebration of Wild Salmon Day, we identify some of the threats facing these fish in BC.
Five people using a net on the side of the Fraser Estuary doing science.

Raincoast welcomes thirteen new team members who have joined our team for the summer

Raincoast is able to provide workplace experience while progressing our conservation work.
Breach that Raincoast made in the North Arm Jetty that is being monitored by multiple people with a large net.

Nature-based Solutions: How restoring habitat protects people and wildlife

Climate change costs in BC are running in the billions of dollars per year; there are many benefits to Nature-based Solutions.
Orange mushroom growing up through moss.

Raincoast is going to Ottawa… again!

Raincoast’s Director of our Fraser River Salmon Conservation Program, Kristen Walters, will be attending Nature on the Hill – an event hosted by Nature Canada that connects conservationists with Members of Parliament to discuss pressing biodiversity issues.
Hatchery salmon wearing a necklace that says "born not to be wild".

Hatcheries: good intentions, bad outcomes

Our new animation delves into the history of hatcheries and the future we envision for wild salmon.
A large net filled with lots of different colours of salmon.

A better, older way to fish for salmon

Our new animation highlights solutions to the problems in conventional fisheries.