A keystone species of coastal ecosystems, salmon are a critical food source and vital part of the culture, social structures and economies of Central Coast Nations.
Salmon populations have been declining along the Pacific Coast for decades, and abundance of this critically important species is now at an all-time low within most of the Central Coast’s salmon-bearing rivers. In recent years, our communities have been unable to access salmon as a reliable and abundant food source, which is a threat to long-term food security and access for food, social or ceremonial (FSC) purposes.
The causes of this urgent crisis are varied and complex, but we know the main factors: climate change, overfishing and habitat degradation. One thing is absolutely clear: we must act now to protect and restore salmon populations for the sake of our cultures, environment, economies and future generations.
In addition to the widespread collapse in salmon returns, another challenge is a decline in salmon escapement monitoring. As a result, the full extent of population declines has gone largely unmonitored and underreported, due to a lack of capacity to carry out this work effectively, and it has been difficult to demonstrate the extent of the decline using existing management frameworks and assessment approaches.
Over the past year, CCIRA focused on immediate action to minimize the negative impacts of this crisis on Central Coast communities and work towards restoring salmon populations. Central Coast Nations’ stewardship staff and leadership have been instrumental in pushing DFO to implement commercial fishing closures that are more in line with the precautionary approach, and the Nations and CCIRA have secured funding to develop better fisheries catch information and implement salmon habitat restoration activities.
While there is much more to do, the Nations are committed to working collaboratively to better
understand salmon population abundance through better research and monitoring, and sustainably manage salmon fisheries into the future via the collaborative governance structures of the FRRA. Supporting salmon to return in greater abundance is not just a matter of restoring and sustaining populations, but also ramping up the essential research and monitoring efforts that will inform decision-making.
Central Coast Nations have been stepping up to fill the monitoring gap in many ways through stream walks and FSC catch monitoring, but there is much more to do. Thanks to support from the BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund (BCSRIF) and other resources including fisheries reconciliation funding, Central Coast Nations are investing heavily in catch monitoring and habitat restoration. These efforts will steadily improve our understanding of salmon populations in the coming years while building capacity and structures for collaborative management and governance.
Along with key partners, such as Coastal First Nations-Great Bear Initiative and others, Central Coast stewardship leaders are working to identify priorities and next steps in what will surely be a long-term effort of restoring salmon stocks. Salmon restoration and sustainable management will remain a high priority for CCIRA for the foreseeable future.