As of this month the Pacific Salmon Foundation added Columbia River salmon data to the Pacific Salmon Explorer, an online tool designed to educate the public on topics like salmon populations and environmental pressures on their natural habitats. Photo by Brandon on UnsplashChadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published 10:51 May 12, 2022

By Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The second annual virtual Bringing Home the Salmon Festival took place last week, successfully educating the public on the measures taken to bring salmon back to the upper Columbia River. Of course the two-day workshop only scratched the surface of the issue, leaving the public in attendance intrigued and hankering for more. 

Columbia River salmon data is now available to the public in the Pacific Salmon Explorer which is an online data visualization tool that was developed by the Pacific Salmon Foundation’s (PSF) Salmon Watersheds Program, which was established in 2008. 

“The Columbia River area was added to the Pacific Salmon Explorer in early May 2022, following over a year of background work consisting of outreach to Indigenous groups, governments, local interest groups, and local salmon experts, listening to their input, and compiling and analyzing the best available data,” says Katrina Connors Director of PSF’s Watersheds Program.

Pacific Salmon Explorer gives an overview of local salmon populations and current human and environmental pressures on their freshwater habitats. “Our update to the Pacific Salmon Explorer includes the addition of the two remaining salmon Conservation Units salmon found in the Canadian portion of the Columbia River watershed. With this update the Pacific Salmon Explorer now provides access to the most up-to-date information on spawner abundance, hatchery releases, run timing, and biological status and trends,” said Vesta Mather, Salmon Watersheds Program project manager. 

The Pacific Salmon Explorer shows data that Okanagan sockeye are experiencing year-over-year improvements. For those that have seen first-hand the decline in salmon over the years in the Columbia, hope is in the water as the Okanagan River, a tributary of the Columbia River has seen impressive returns. 

“While there are many stories of salmon struggling, and the majority of the Columbia River in Canada have been without salmon for over 80 years, there are positive salmon stories too. Sockeye salmon in the Okanagan over the last decade have seen significant improvements to average escapement thanks to the collaborative efforts of many groups and governments,” says Connors.

Just as the Columbia River Salmon Reintroduction Initiative has been working tirelessly in efforts to bring salmon back to the upper Columbia, other local organizations like the Okanagan Nation Alliance have been instrumental in the return of adult salmon in the Okanagan. 

Without the generous expertise and input shared by local knowledge holders and groups 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, this return would not be possible.

“Expertise from these groups and their extensive work with sockeye and Chinook allowed us to identify specific spawning locations that informed the habitat assessments,” said Connors. “Local knowledge is a critical part of these habitat assessments and for improving our collective understanding of how current habitat pressures may be affecting the recovery of local salmon populations. With the addition of the Columbia River, PSF is one step closer toward its goal of democratizing access to information on the state of salmon and their habitats in B.C.” 

PSF collaborated with representatives from First Nations, conservation organizations, and local experts. They in return shared their own knowledge and important local research PSF hopes to support other salmon recovery initiatives in the Columbia region with this data.

“We hope that the Pacific Salmon Explorer will help to democratize salmon information and increase accessibility for all parties working to recover and support salmon in the region,” says Connors.

This item reprinted with permission from The Columbia Valley Pioneer, Invermere, British Columbia