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Review reveals hidden risks of estuary development for young salmon

A new study from the Salmon Watersheds Lab has found significant evidence that human activity in estuaries is impacting juvenile Pacific and Atlantic salmon. The team’s review of 167 peer-reviewed studies (from an initial search of 13,000) identified negative impacts from several stressors, including the effects of flood-protecting tidal gates, pollution and habitat modification.

Dr. Emma Hodgson, a post-doc researcher with the Salmon Watersheds Lab (SWL) at the time of the research and lead author on the paper, says the review is the first to synthesize what is known, and not known, about how human activities in estuaries may impact juvenile salmon.

“Risk can be defined by the severity of the impact and the certainty we have about whether that impact is likely—that certainty is based on the amount of evidence and agreement between the evidence,” Dr. Hodgson says.

The review summarized more than 1,300 statistical tests related to the biological impacts from 14 stressors to determine the environmental impacts of human activities.

One stressor the review identified as likely to have a negative impact on salmon populations, is a reduction in connectivity from the presence of tide gates. These metal gates are designed to reduce flood risks, but can also cut off access for salmon to parts of a river.

For example, in one study reviewed, the number of juvenile salmon found above tide gates was 2.5 times lower than in free-flowing rivers.

The review also identified such stressors as light and noise pollution, which have potentially severe negative impacts on salmon, but which have been poorly studied.

Dr. Jonathan Moore, head of the SWL and co-author on the paper, hopes this review will help guide stakeholders and decision-makers in being effective stewards of juvenile salmon and their estuarine habitats.

“Natural resource managers need to make tough decisions, in short timeframes, about the potential environmental risks of proposed developments and whether they should go ahead,” says Dr. Moore. “They won’t have time to wade through thousands of papers when making these decisions, so we did it for them.”

Media: SFU News.

Latest News

April, 2020 - Check out our COVID-19 isolation-inspired Notes from the Field.


March 10, 2020 - Congratulations Kara Pitman (PhD student) and Jon Moore on the publication of their collaborative synthesis of the effects of glacier retreat on Pacific Salmon. Read the paper. Vancouver Sun article.

Feb 5, 2020 - Congratulations Emma Hodgson (past Postdoc), Jon Moore and Sam Wilson (PhD student) on your paper titled "Changing estuaries and impacts on juvenile salmon: A systematic review".

Jan 31, 2020 - Karl Sietz successfully defended his MSc on fish community dynamics and nursery habitats in an undeveloped estuary. ​Karl will be continuing with the Lab as a Research Associate managing the Koeye Salmon Ecosystem Study.


Nov 14, 2019 - Welcome to our new Lab Manager Tash Prokop! Assisting her will be long-time Research Assistant Mikayla More O'Ferrall.

Sep 19, 2019 - The AFS/TWS Joint Conference in Reno, NV (Sep 29-Oct 3) is fast approaching! We have current and past lab members presenting their research and hosting symposiums. Stay tuned for more highlights!

Sep 11, 2019 - Welcome Dylan Cunningham (MSc student) and Steven Brownlee (PhD student) to our lab! 


Sep 1, 2019 - Congratulations Jon on receiving your full tenure professorship! 

Aug 20, 2019 - Jon Moore and colleague David Schindler published an op-ed in the Seattle Times titled "Salmon and mining: The science is clear, the future is uncertain". 

Jul 1, 2019 - Congratulations to Kyle Wilson for winning the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship!

Jun 13, 2019 - Congratulations Emma Hodgson (Postdoc) and co-authors on your paper titled "Moving Beyond Silos in Cumulative Effects Assessment".

Jun 12, 2019 - Elissa Sweeney-Bergen successfully defended her MSc on environmental change and sockeye salmon life histories in the Babine River watershed. Congratulations!!

May 14, 2019 - Will Atlas successfully defended his PhD on ​population assessment and climate impact monitoring for Heiltsuk-led salmon stewardship. Congratulations Dr. Atlas!!

Apr 17, 2019 - Kara Pitman (PhD candidate) and Jon Moore are featured in The New York Times. Check out their story about glaciers and salmon here!

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