Wild salmon begin and spend much of their early life in streams, many of which are found in and around communities in BC.

But before and after hatching they remain vulnerable to predators such as birds, salamanders and other fish. Many of the young salmon - or fry -are eaten just as their journey begins.

Eggs are laid and fertilized in the autumn - buried for their protection in stream beds where they remain over winter.

Since 1977, a federally-supported hatcheries and community streamkeeper initiative known as the Salmonid Enhancement Program has worked to augment nature and to overcome the impact of another challenge — decades of overfishing.

Chum salmon waiting to be processed, ca.1910s, Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society, 1998.006.002-8

Every year, one feature of the program sees school children and adults alike connect with neighbourhood streamkeeper groups throughout BC to take part in springtime releases of the young fry – part of larger efforts to improve salmon runs.

Community volunteers also do everything from keeping streams clear of debris to monitoring water temperature and feeding the fry.

Wild salmon have smart DNA – so smart that it’s attuned to the precise stream in which they were hatched. If a catastrophic event wipes out the salmon stock in a particular stream, the memory built into the salmon born there is lost as well.

When there are no salmon to leave the stream, it’s unlikely, without assistance, that the salmon will ever return.

Salmon Stewards face off against a Rockslide

When a rockslide piled 50,000 cubic meters of rubble and debris into the Seymour River in North Vancouver, it blocked the migration of juvenile salmon heading to the ocean and the returning salmon heading back home.

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The slide cut off about 90% of the Coho salmon that travel the river. Without a way to swim to their spawning grounds the salmon stock unique to the Seymour River would be wiped out.

The Seymour Salmonid Society runs the hatchery on the Seymour River, constantly monitoring the health of the nearby salmon runs. When the rockslide happened the society quickly rang the alarm. It didn’t take long to realize that the work to remove the rocks would take years not months – time the salmon didn’t have.

Salmon stewardship is woven into the culture of First Nations from a history that goes back thousands of years. It’s seen as a sacred responsibility, reflected in stories that are passed from one generation to the next. Thinking back on it, Councillor Chris Lewis of the Squamish Nation sees what happened after the slide as the power of salmon to bring people together.

The society took the lead in convening a roundtable that included the municipal, provincial and federal governments and the Squamish and Tsleil-waututh Nations. It was the first time that all these parties had ever really sat down and talked about salmon. When they did, they managed to reach an agreement in principle on the blueprint for restoration. The next step was to set about raising funds – but that still left the immediate problem of the salmon in the river.

Last summer the Seymour Salmonid Society and the Squamish Nation formed a partnership to build an aluminum fish fence. The idea was to redirect the returning salmon into a catchment area where they could be caught and then transported in water trucks above the rockslide.

It worked – in fact it worked a little too well. The partners soon realized they had a different problem on their hands – people and otters keen to take advantage of the easy catch. With actions taken to prevent further unsanctioned fishing – Chris Lewis figures this year they’re well prepared to help the salmon over the rockslide to continue their journey back to their spawning grounds.

Deforestation along the banks of rivers and streams can cause soil erosion that leads to devastating landslides.

The West Coast of Vancouver Island, which has seen periods of heavy deforestation, once boasted nearly 1200 salmon river stocks. Now more than half are either extinct, or at risk of becoming so.

The odds are stacked against salmon at every stage of their lives. Select from the tiles below to see some of the hazards they face, and how many salmon will make it through to the next stage in their journey.


After their growth period in fresh water, which lasts one or more years depending on the species, the salmon begin migrating toward the sea where they face many more challenges and bigger predators.


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