Salmon Watersheds Program

The Skeena River Estuary: Assessment of Current Status and Condition

Description

Each spring, juvenile salmon from over fifty genetically and geographically distinct wild salmon populations travel through the Skeena River estuary as they migrate out to sea. The estuary provides important nursery habitat for juvenile salmon as they transition from fresh to salt water environments. Yet, despite the importance of the estuary, our understanding of estuarine salmon habitat and the vulnerability of wild salmon populations to the cumulative impacts of human and climate-related pressures remains limited.

This project assessed the status and condition of the Skeena River estuary from the perspective of salmon. Three questions guided the implementation of this project:

  1. What are the key pressures on salmon habitat?
  2. What is the status of salmon habitat?
  3. What are critical gaps in our understanding of the estuary?

With input from a regional technical advisory committee, we developed a suite of indicators and benchmarks, and used them in combination with the assembled datasets, to evaluate the status of the Skeena River estuary. This project revealed considerable gaps in information for the Skeena River estuary, highlighting the need for increased monitoring and assessment of trends in estuary indicators. Based on our assessment of data gaps, we recommend that future monitoring efforts focus on four priority topics:

  1. The distribution and abundance of juvenile salmon.
  2. The growth and condition of juvenile salmon.
  3. The extent of eelgrass.
  4. The density and diversity of salmon food.

Primary outputs from this project include: (1) a snapshot of the current status of the Skeena River estuary, (2) establishment of a baseline for monitoring changes in the condition of the estuary over time, and (3) the development of a framework for evaluating key pressures on salmon and estuarine habitats. By building our collective knowledge of Skeena salmon and their estuarine habitats, local communities will be better equipped to identify salmon conservation priorities for the region.

Skeena-watershed-estuary-data-samples

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