By Chadd Cawson   Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The second annual virtual Bringing Home the Salmon Festival recently took place, educating the public on steps being taken to bring salmon back to the upper Columbia River. Two days of workshops and events were held in May. Columbia River salmon data is now available to the public in the Pacific Salmon Explorer, which is an online data visualization tool 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 also 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,” Katrina Connors, director of PSF’s Watersheds Program, said.

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,” Vesta Mather, Salmon Watersheds Program project manager, said. “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.”

The Pacific Salmon Explorer shows data that Okanagan sockeye are experiencing year-over-year improvements. “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,” Connors said. “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.”

Just as the Columbia River Salmon Reintroduction Initiative has been working 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 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 — the return would not be possible. The Shuswap Band recently released 1,500 salmon into the upper Columbia River.

“Expertise from these groups and their extensive work with sockeye and Chinook allowed us to identify specific spawning locations that informed the habitat assessments,” Connors said. “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 local research. PSF hopes to support other salmon recovery initiatives in the Columbia region with this data. For more information on current salmon data in the Columbia River watershed, search for the Pacific Salmon Explorer online.

“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,” Connors said.