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

Ghost Runs: Management and status assessment of Pacific salmon returning to British Columbia’s central and north coasts.

December 3, 20081 min read

Price, M.H.H., C.T. Darimont, N.F. Temple, and S.M. MacDuffee. 2008. Ghost Runs: Management and status assessment of Pacific salmon returning to British Columbia’s central and north coasts. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 65:2712-2718 Ghost Runs in pdf

Persistent Organic Pollutants in British Columbia’s Grizzly Bears: Consequence of Divergent Diets

September 15, 20051 min read

Christensen, J.R., MacDuffee, M., MacDonald, R.W., Whiticar, M., Ross, P.S. 2005. Persistent Organic Pollutants in British Columbia’s Grizzly Bears: Consequence of Divergent Diet. Environmental Science and Technology 39: 6952-6960. View the paper in .PDF

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