Wild Salmon Program

Pacific salmon are a 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.

Photo by Fernando Lessa.

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. 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 (in watersheds and the ocean), 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, public 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

Salmon Science

Revealing the true extent of lost salmon habitat in the Lower Fraser River

August 11, 20214 min read
Revealing the true extent of lost salmon habitat in the Lower Fraser River

Nearly everyday, I walk by a monument memorializing Brewery Creek, a historical creek that meandered through the intersection of Kingsway and Broadway in the heart of Vancouver. Named for its utility in providing water to the breweries of the area…

Rooting people to place through the Connected Estuary webinar series

June 9, 20213 min read
Rooting people to place through the Connected Estuary webinar series

Over the course of the Connected Estuary webinar series, we explored the connectivity and ecological importance of the Fraser River Estuary to a myriad of species, including Pacific salmon, Southern Resident killer whales and migratory birds. As the host of…

Join us for a webinar on salmon as a foundation species on the coast

March 8, 20212 min read
Join us for a webinar on salmon as a foundation species on the coast

Salmon are an icon of coastal BC and considered a foundation species. A ‘foundation’ species 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…

Research: Habitat use by juvenile salmon, other migratory fish, and resident fish species underscores the importance of estuarine habitat mosaics

September 9, 20196 min read
Research: Habitat use by juvenile salmon, other migratory fish, and resident fish species underscores the importance of estuarine habitat mosaics

Pacific salmon, especially Chinook and Chum, reside and feed in estuaries during downstream migrations. But the extent to which they rely on estuaries, and which habitats within estuaries, is not well understood. We need to understand this complexity if we…

Salmon species diversity predicts salmon consumption by terrestrial wildlife

January 7, 20196 min read
Salmon species diversity predicts salmon consumption by terrestrial wildlife

Research by scientists at Spirit Bear Research Foundation, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and the University of Victoria, led by Christina Service, shows that salmon species diversity – the number of spawning salmon species available – is far more important and positively…

Criteria for a good catch: A conceptual framework to guide sourcing of sustainable salmon fisheries

April 17, 201813 min read
Criteria for a good catch: A conceptual framework to guide sourcing of sustainable salmon fisheries

Researchers from Wild Fish Conservancy, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and the University of Montana are proposing an alternative framework for certifying wild salmon. The alternative is explained in a paper published in journal FACETS, by Canadian Science Publishing, titled “Criteria for…

Salmon Reports

Conservation concerns for DFO’s 2016 salmon fishing plan

May 4, 20161 min read
Conservation concerns for DFO’s 2016 salmon fishing plan

Raincoast works closely with NGOs that form the Salmon Committee of the Pacific Marine Conservation Caucus (with Watershed Watch, SkeenaWild, David Suzuki Foundation, the Steelhead Society of BC, and the Pacific StreamKeepers Foundation) to address salmon harvest and management issues…

Bear and salmon research in Heiltsuk Territory

May 28, 20142 min read
Bear and salmon research in Heiltsuk Territory

This progress report provides a 2013 update for the Salmon Carnivore project – a study that looks at the relationship between bear health and salmon abundance – being undertake with the Heiltsuk in their traditional territory of BC’s Great Bear…

Is BC’s chum fishery sustainable?

May 28, 20121 min read
Is BC’s chum fishery sustainable?

Raincoast and three other BC ENGO’s have critiqued the proposal by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to certify BC’s commercial chum salmon fishery as sustainable.  Raincoast supports certification as a way to make salmon fisheries sustainable, but we have identified conditions that…

Is BC’s pink salmon fishery sustainable?

January 10, 20111 min read
Is BC’s pink salmon fishery sustainable?

Raincoast and three other BC ENGO’s have critiqued the proposal by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to certify BC’s commercial pink salmon fishery as sustainable.  Raincoast supports certification as a way to make salmon fisheries sustainable, but we identified conditions that must occur…

Abstract: paleolimnology workshop

July 23, 20092 min read
Abstract: paleolimnology workshop

A two-day workshop was convened October 8-9, 2008 to review and synthesize sediment core studies conducted in sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) nursery lakes in British Columbia, Alaska, and the northwest United States. The objective of the workshop was to advance…

Juvenile Salmon Migration Mapping Report

January 30, 20081 min read

Raincoast investigated juvenile salmon habitat use along BC’s central coast in order to identify primary migration routes. This is a year-one report. Juvenile Salmon Migration Mapping Report

Past projects

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

In partnership 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 partnership 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.

 Join us

Support Raincoast’s Salmon Conservation Efforts