The importance of Pacific salmon & why revitalizing creekwalker monitoring programs is so important to our coast.
Wild salmon are the lifeblood of the B.C. coast, connecting and feeding the ocean and forest. Each spring, young salmon swim from river to sea, where they grow and feed killer whales, sea lions, and a multitude of marine animals. In autumn, bears, wolves, eagles, gulls, and other wildlife gather in estuaries and along rivers to feast on adults returning to spawn. The end of the salmon life cycle brings an essential surge of ocean-derived nutrients to the trees and mycorrhizal networks below ground that line the banks of each river. These marine nutrients transported by salmon have been found in the tops of trees and have been correlated with higher abundance and diversity of birds. Wild salmon literally feed the forests we love.
salmon feed our coast
Quintessential to coastal cultures and traditions, our communities rely on salmon for sustenance and livelihoods. They are also a cornerstone of B.C.’s tourism industry, a highlight of local cuisine, and essential food for the wildlife that attract so many visitors to our coast. Directly or indirectly, we all rely on wild salmon.
dive deeper into why salmon count
In 2018 and 2019, the rivers of B.C.’s North and Central Coasts saw one of the most devastating salmon returns on record. Historically hundreds of spawning populations of chum and pink salmon provided a huge annual influx of nutrients to creeks and rivers throughout the Great Bear Rainforest, but many of these runs have become devastatingly low. These troubling numbers extend to other vital Pacific salmon species including coho, sockeye and Chinook. On the North and Central Coasts a lack of monitoring means we don’t even know the state of many salmon stocks, and yet commercial openings continue.
For more than a decade, federal legislation, commissions, policies and court rulings have spelled out the threats to wild salmon and the changes needed to protect them. In 2018, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) found that 50 percent of Chinook salmon populations in Southern B.C. were at-risk, yet few changes have been implemented, and salmon populations continue to decline. But if fewer than half of B.C.’s salmon runs are actually monitored, how can we know their status?
There has never been such a sense of urgency over the state of salmon on the B.C. coast.
salmon run populations in the great bear rainforest (1955-2017)
discover why salmon are in trouble
Photo: Roland Gockel
The single greatest asset to salmon conservation on our coast is on-the-ground monitoring undergone by Indigenous Nations Guardian programs, academics, volunteers, stewardship programs, and a few remaining DFO charter patrolmen who are trying to keep the salmon count alive. In the midst of an escalating wild salmon crisis and despite tens of millions of dollars allocated for salmon, Canada’s federal government is divesting from this foundational pillar of salmon management.
“Escapement data are the basis of the whole fisheries management regime, beginning with the expectations of returning stocks based on brood year escapements through to the development of future fishing plans, according to the species and cycle of return. Obviously neither pre-season planning nor computer stock modeling and run reconstruction or any other long term strategic planning exercise is possible without this information.”
— DFO Area 6 Operational Framework, 1987
The Great Bear Rainforest has 2,592 populations of wild Chinook, coho, chum, pink and sockeye salmon. Despite new announcements for $142.5 million towards wild salmon protection, DFO has decreased their investment in monitoring by over 60 per cent over the last 15 years alone. Supporting enumeration and using existing data to make informed management decisions imperative in the wild salmon conservation effort.
Pacific Wild recently completed an in-depth analysis of salmon enumeration data, compiled from the Pacific Salmon Foundation Salmon Explorer and DFO New Escapement Salmon Database. This research determined how many salmon spawning streams are monitored and counted on a yearly basis and identified voids in data collection.
The very foundation of salmon stewardship requires the annual monitoring of thousands of watersheds in coastal B.C. in order to assess the health and abundance of spawning salmon, yet in the last 15 years, DFO funding for salmon escapement programs has been cut by over 60%.
Despite tens of millions of dollars being allocated for wild salmon conservation in B.C., Canada’s federal government has divested from salmon monitoring projects. If fewer than 10% of B.C.’s salmon runs are actually monitored, how is DFO reliably allocating wild salmon for fisheries and broader ecosystem needs?
For the last 13 years, Reynolds Lab researchers have been counting salmon in 25 salmon streams in Heiltsuk Territory. Get a glimpse into their process and learn about the importance of salmon monitoring in B.C.’s smaller streams which are often overlooked by the government.
This interactive tool displays data collected on Pacific salmon species and their habitats – a project by the Pacific Salmon Foundation’s Salmon Watersheds Program.
As part of his duties as Commissioner, in 2012 Bruce Cohen completed an investigation into the status of the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon. This report outlines his recommendations to improve the future sustainability of the species by a deadline of September 30th, 2020.
In 2002, Brian Harvey and Misty MacDuffee of Raincoast Foundation published a report addressing the growing concerns in British Columbia’s coastal communities about the declines in local salmon runs.