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

Bird on a tree with a bug in its mouth.

Canada releases the 2030 National Biodiversity Strategy and Nature Accountability Bill –a positive step, but one that falls short 

The final 2030 National Biodiversity Strategy addresses biodiversity-harming subsidies and promises an adaptive management approach, but lacks a clear plan on how it will be implemented.
Drone image of Sumas Prairie farm fields flooded.

New study identifies the cost of restoring the Sumas Xhotsa (Lake) as a tool for reconciliation, climate adaptation, and ecosystem restoration

The research weaves together Indigenous laws with an economic analysis to determine the cost of implementing ‘managed retreat’ as a nature-based solution to flood risk in the Lower Fraser region.
A group of youth walking along a hill.

Reflecting on our eighth year of Salish Sea Emerging Stewards programming  

Our goal is to inspire and train the next generation of conservation stewards through land-based, at-sea, and online programming.
People looking into a net in the middle of one of our breaches in the North Arm Jetty.

Monitoring salmon in our latest breach in the North Arm Jetty

Master’s research is looking into different life histories of sockeye salmon to better understand the impact of Raincoast’s breaches project.
An oil tanker at rest off the BC coast.

Federal promises made for endangered whales during TMX approval are unfulfilled

Southern Resident killer whales need protective orders to facilitate recovery.
Summary of key facts about southeast Alaska interception fisheries

Summary of key facts about southeast Alaska interception fisheries

Last week, Ocean Wise made the decision to remove its recommendation to list salmon from southeast Alaska as sustainable. This removal will be in place until the sustainability of these fisheries is no longer in question.
Looking uphill in a forest with moss and grass on the forest floor and tries stretching into the sky.

Wildfire, watersheds, and landscape change

Exploring the co-benefits of collaborative, landscape-scale approaches to managing fire in coastal forests of southern BC.
Using drones to study killer whale health

Using drones to study killer whale health

Every summer our Cetacean Scientists use innovative drone technology to study whales.