Salmon are keystone species
Salmon in British Columbia are known as keystone species. This is because they support more than 130 other species with their nutrients, including humans. Because they live in streams, lakes, rivers, estuaries and open ocean, the health of salmon populations are a good indicator of how well we are taking care of our marine and land-based ecosystems along Canada’s Pacific coastline. If we have healthy salmon runs, then we have probably achieved good management of human activities and watershed conservation. The Pacific Salmon Foundation does the core of its work for watershed conservation by funding more than 300 streamkeeping groups across the province. Streamkeepers volunteer thousands of hours in local streams and estuaries to ensure there is optimal habitat for salmon to return to and spawn.
Dead salmon make big trees
Each year millions of salmon return to their birth place to spawn in more than 3,500 coastal rivers and streams. Besides offering an all-you-can eat buffet for predators such as whales, bears and bald eagles, one of the most important things they do is die. During spawning, rivers quickly become choked with dead rotting salmon. As the fish decompose, nutrients leach back into the river system providing nutrients for some 130 species of plants and animals – from algae, fungi to cedar trees, and from insects, to song-birds on up to large mammals. But this cycle doesn’t happen unless a number of factors are in place. Factors like cool, clean water, complex habitat (logs and plants that provide shade and shelter) and spawning gravel to house the next generation. So in truth, streamkeepers are also keepers of the forest, and various other flora and fauna that depend on Pacific salmon.
Community Salmon Program
The Pacific Salmon Foundation’s Community Salmon Program is a grantmaking program that supports volunteer and community–driven organizations that undertake salmon conservation and restoration projects in British Columbia and the Yukon. The program makes annual grants totaling more than $1.5 million. The majority of these funds are generated through sales of the Recreational Fisheries Conservation Stamp, commonly known as the Salmon Stamp, by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Streamkeepers are citizen-scientists who play a vital role not just in watershed conservation, but also in fisheries management. They operate small-scale hatcheries that support local salmon fisheries and provide key metrics on returning salmon to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. These metrics inform hatchery-production plans and fisheries openings and closings in specific areas. The essence of their role is to monitor local streams for changes over time from a long-term perspective. This is crucial to the survival of salmon, because it helps us understand how minute changes in the ecosystem are affecting salmon and what we can do to help. The Streamkeepers Program is modeled after stream stewardship programs in the United States and supported by Fisheries and Oceans Canada Salmonid Enhancement Program (SEP).