Soon more will be known about the future of salmon populations in the Columbia River thanks to an online tool developed by experts in collaboration with First Nations groups.
This tool, Pacific Salmon Explorer, provides a peek into the state of salmon in B.C. and has recently expanded its scope to the Columbia region of the province.
The Pacific Salmon Explorer is a comprehensive source of information with data and assessments for 90 per cent of salmon across the province.
According to Dr. Katrina Connors, Director of the Salmon Watersheds Program, the tool compiles data and interactively visualizes their populations and habitats online.
With the inclusion of the Columbia region, the Pacific Salmon Explorer now provides access to salmon data for seven of the eight salmon-bearing regions in B.C.
The Columbia region includes watersheds surrounding Revelstoke, Kelowna, Penticton, Nelson, and Cranbrook.
Vesta Mather, project manager of the Salmon Watersheds Program, says it’s great to see the work that’s going on in the Columbia River with the reintroduction of salmon in the region. The two conservation units in the Columbia Region, which are groupings of fish containing the biodiversity necessary for the generation of new species, are a population of sockeye and chinook salmon.
According to Mather, a key part of the work done in the Columbia Region has been listening to the stories that are being told by the people who know the river best, as the river itself and its inhabitants have a rich and devastating history. The tool has benefited from the expertise and input shared by First Nations groups in the region.
Historically, the Columbia River had prosperous salmon populations. However, in the 1930s, the damming of the river had major impacts on the fish, making migration difficult and in some cases cutting salmon off from their freshwater habitats altogether.
In the past ten years, stewardship efforts led by the Okanagan Nation Alliance and others have kick-started the salmon’s return to the region.
The Pacific Salmon Explorer highlights key findings in the Columbia region, as more salmon in the Okanagan are not being harvested and instead of getting the opportunity to spawn.
“We’re really looking forward to working with those groups and other groups to ensure the explorer is supporting them in their vision for salmon,” said Mather.
The data also shows that sockeye spawning habitats in the watershed face a high risk of habitat degradation due to extensive road development.
The inclusion of the Columbia region was made possible through the expertise and input from groups doing work in the region including the Okanagan Nation Alliance, Shuswap Indian Band, Ktunaxa Nation Council, Living Lakes Canada, Okanagan Basin Waterboard, Okanagan Fisheries Foundation, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Province of British Columbia, and others.
Since 2016, the Salmon Watersheds Program has been working its way from the north to the south of the province, gathering data on salmon to provide an overview of how salmon in particular regions are doing.
The tool is used by first-nations groups, government agencies, researchers and the public to give a snapshot of the state of salmon. It can also be used by communities to help inform decisions that relate to the restoration of salmon populations, and that collaborative effort is one of their main objectives.
The next step is to look at the data they’ve compiled and zoom in on the correlation between salmon habitats and populations and the impacts humans may have on them through industrial development.
You can view the Pacific Salmon Explorer at salmonexplorer.ca.
READ MORE: Conservation groups work to protect salmon in the Columbia River
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