A vision for the coast, as we head into 2020

Happy New Year!

A heartfelt thank you to everyone who has donated and shared our end of year fundraising drive. We are grateful to be surrounded by people, businesses and organizations that share our vision and are willing to invest in our initiatives. Among the donations received, we’ve had stock donations come in, which is another way to give for our Canadian donors. Hopefully, we’ll have that option available for our US donors in 2020 as well.

If you haven’t given yet, there’s still time. As a registered charity, we give tax receipts for donations as small as $10. We see more and more people becoming monthly givers, which we appreciate. If you start now, for $10 or $200, your monthly support creates a stable base of funding from which to plan and execute our projects.

From salmon research and killer whale protections in the Salish Sea to bear research and  safeguarding coastal carnivores in the Great Bear Rainforest, your support enables Raincoast  to expand our reach and execute our projects. This past year, we’ve been proud to see our connectivity project in the Fraser River estuary cross several hurdles. It’s a story of positive change, and one we will leave you with for the New Year.

Reconnecting Fraser estuary salmon habitat

Two scientists in orange jackets and helmets stand on a platform overlooking the blue water near the shore while the Fraser rver stretches into the distance under mountains and blue sky
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

In March 2019, we broke new ground in the Fraser estuary, literally. After three years researching how juvenile salmon use the Fraser estuary, we began physical habitat restoration to improve their access into habitats that support them. The Fraser estuary has been highly modified by dikes, causeways, and other structures. This includes the Steveston Jetty, an eight km long wall that separates the main arm of the Fraser River from adjacent marsh habitats. Phase one of our restoration efforts is addressing this barrier by creating 50 m breaches in the first three kms of this jetty.

100 years of obstruction

The Steveston Jetty is only one of the many structures dividing the Fraser estuary, altering the movement of salmon, freshwater, and fine sediments to Sturgeon and Roberts Banks. Starting in the 1880s, these walls were built to control the main channel and aid navigation. They restrict the natural processes necessary for a healthy estuary, and interrupt the migratory pathways of juvenile Chinook and other salmon species into nearshore habitats. They likely force juvenile salmon into the deeper waters of Georgia Strait before they are ready.

In 2017, with support from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, we began hydraulic modelling to investigate a range of project ideas, and acquire baseline data on the abundance of juvenile salmon, marsh growth, and water quality from potential restoration sites. Based on our modelling and surveys, we identified the Steveston Jetty as the first project, anticipating benefits to juvenile salmon and the estuary without negatively affecting navigation.

When we created the breaches in the Steveston Jetty, our strategy was to remove sections of the wall and then let the flow of the river create natural channels onto Sturgeon Bank over time. To sample salmon in these breaches, we work with specially designed nets that funnel fish through an opening where they are then caught, identified, measured, and released. 

Habitat restoration succeeds

In just 45 minutes on our first day of sampling at the east breach, March 26th 2019, we caught dozens of juvenile Chinook and chum salmon moving through the breach and into the safety of the marsh. It worked! We continued our sampling of the breaches through the spring and summer, and captured 454 juvenile salmon on 13 sampling days.

From our previous research, we know that May is the peak of the outmigration for juvenile chum in the Lower Fraser and the peak for juvenile Chinook from the Harrison River. These tiny salmon are barely four to five cms long. These juvenile salmon likely need to spend at least a few tidal cycles in the marsh before they are ready for saltier waters. As such, these breaches should play a critical role in supporting their growth and transition.

Three scientists in outdoor gear inspect and fish out live fish from white buckets using a small net, into container boxes under a blue sky besides the water.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

In November 2019, we began phase two at each of our jetty breach locations to further reduce their elevation and ensure the breaches allow salmon movement and flow on all but the lowest low tides. We will continue monitoring salmon passage and marsh recovery, so stay tuned for further updates.

Read the rest of our annual report.

Similar Posts