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

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

New research proves that nutrients from the sea can increase terrestrial plant growth and reproduction

Jan 25, 20235 min read
New research proves that nutrients from the sea can increase terrestrial plant growth and reproduction

The relationship between terrestrial and marine environments within an ecosystem is essential. Newly published research from Simon Fraser University shows that salmon and marine plants increase both growth and reproduction in terrestrial plants. The findings, “Experimental addition of marine-derived nutrients…

Meet Auston Chhor, Raincoast’s new Wild Salmon Governance and Policy Analyst

Jan 23, 20236 min read
Meet Auston Chhor, Raincoast’s new Wild Salmon Governance and Policy Analyst

Auston Chhor has joined our growing Wild Salmon Program team as a Governance and Policy Analyst. He will focus on addressing the myriad of threats facing salmon habitats in the Lower Fraser River by progressing governance frameworks, policies, funding structures,…

Bold, sustained action can revitalize wild Pacific salmon in the lower Fraser River

Aug 4, 20227 min read
Bold, sustained action can revitalize wild Pacific salmon in the lower Fraser River

According to a new open-access study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, active interventions to implement habitat strategies can lift populations of wild Pacific salmon, known as conservation units (CUs),  to “green status” — which means they are healthy…

Quantifying lost habitat for Pacific salmon in the Lower Fraser

Aug 12, 20215 min read
Quantifying lost habitat for Pacific salmon in the Lower Fraser

For perhaps the first time ever, researchers have mapped out the true extent of habitat loss for salmon in the Lower Fraser River, one of the most important spawning and rearing grounds for Pacific salmon in British Columbia. Salmon have…

Chinook salmon exhibit long-term rearing and early marine growth in the Fraser River, B.C., a large urban estuary

Jan 20, 20216 min read
Chinook salmon exhibit long-term rearing and early marine growth in the Fraser River, B.C., a large urban estuary

“The Fraser estuary is an expansive, silty ecosystem, which makes it difficult to study fish movements. Using modern techniques, we were able to confirm that this threatened population of Chinook salmon rely heavily on the estuary during their emigration to…

Research: Conservation in heavily urbanized biodiverse regions requires urgent management action and attention to governance

Dec 15, 20204 min read
Research: Conservation in heavily urbanized biodiverse regions requires urgent management action and attention to governance

The Fraser River estuary, which once supported Canada’s  largest wild salmon runs, is now home to over half of British Columbia’s human population. With this comes growing urban centers, new infrastructure projects, and further habitat loss. Despite the stress this…

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?

Jan 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

Jul 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

Jan 30, 20081 min read
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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.

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