The (poor) state of BC’s Pacific salmon and steelhead trout


Image: Oceana Canada


The Pacific salmon and steelhead trout are iconic symbols of British Columbia and constitute much of the soul of the province. They have sustained Indigenous peoples, in terms of food and cultural value, for millennia (in fact some people have argued that the draw of millions of salmon was important to the initial colonization of North America by humans via the Bering Land Bridge at least 25,000 years ago). Famous explorers of what is now BC such as Sir Alexander Mackenzie, Simon Fraser, and David Thompson traded for salmon during their epic travels of the late 1700s and early 1800s. The commercial salmon fishery was a mainstay of the BC economy for much of the 19th and 20th centuries.

People often ask me, “How are the salmon doing this year?” That is a great question and recent stories have not been good. First, we had the lowest sockeye salmon return to the Fraser River in 2019 since detailed records began. Then there was the spring 2019 discovery of the massive rock slide at Big Bar on the Fraser River mainstem blocking the migration of thousands of adult salmon. Finally, a recent story emerged about the third year in a row of no returns of chum salmon to Still Creek in East Vancouver, one of the few remaining streams that recently held salmon in Vancouver.

Amid all the news flashes that seem to quickly fade, it can be difficult to keep track of general trends across multiple species of salmon and steelhead trout that occur from southern BC to the headwaters of the Yukon River in northern BC. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ (the agency with the legislated mandate to manage our salmon resources) website is quite obscure in terms of overall status of key salmon populations in BC. The provincial government’s official environmental websites are even less informative. Neither “fish” or “fisheries” are even mentioned on the home pages of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy or the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, and the Ministry of Agriculture’s website deals only with aquaculture and recreational fishing. The main BC government home page, however, has a banner depicting sockeye salmon! Better are agencies such as the Pacific Salmon Commission (which posts weekly summaries during test fishing season), the Pacific Salmon Foundation’s “Salmon Explorer”, and weekly email updates from local BC Government fisheries groups.

Here, I provide links and key summaries from this information that will be updated as new data become available. We need timely and accessible information on the status of Pacific salmon and steelhead trout (BC’s official provincial fishes) to be able to make informed queries of our public officials charged with their conservation and to be able to assess the actions, or lack of action, they are taking to conserve these fishes. Please spread the word.