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Salmon diversity sustains First Nations fisheries

A new study shows that high biodiversity of salmon increases the consistency of catches from year-to-year and extends the season for fresh fish in First Nations fisheries. 

This research was led by Holly Nesbitt and performed as part of his Masters project in Resource and Environmental Management in the lab of Jonathan Moore at Simon Fraser University. It was published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. 




Like a well-balanced financial portfolio that can smooth market fluctuations, fisheries that caught a more diverse portfolio of salmon populations and species were more stable through time. Instead of analyzing market returns of different financial portfolios, this study examined First Nations fisheries with different “salmon-folios”.

This research examined 30 years of catch data from 21 First Nation fisheries from throughout the Fraser River. Fisheries that could access a higher number of salmon populations had up to 3.8 times more stable catch and 3 times longer fishing seasons than fisheries with access to fewer populations. Surprisingly, catch stablity and season duration was predominantly linked to hidden population diversity within salmon species, while the number of different salmon species in a fishery had a smaller effect.

Large salmon watersheds like the Fraser River don’t just contain five species of Pacific salmon such as Chinook and sockeye, but within each of these species there can be dozens of unique and locally-adapted populations of salmon.

Climate change is making the world increasingly volatile; this research illustrates how protecting existing biodiversity can help dampen this variability and support food security for indigenous peoples.

This study provides further evidence for why protection of salmon habitat is a good investment for the future, say First Nations and political leaders.  

 “The Government of Canada must step up and enact not only the Recommendations of the Cohen Commission Report, but the ‘Principles’ must be enacted upon coast wide,” explains Bob Chamberlin, Vice President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and Chairman of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance, unaffiliated with the study. “Protection of the broadest genetic diversity of Wild Salmon stocks will help them provide for our future generations, a component of our Constitutionally-protected Aboriginal Rights.”

Fin Donnelly, Member of Parliament for Port Moody-Coquitlam (unaffiliated with study), states that, “Moore and Nesbitt’s research clearly demonstrates diversity is key, especially when it comes to salmon survival – it verifies the necessity of habitat protection. What it also shows is the need for government to embrace a watershed, or whole systems approach, in decision-making.”


Nesbitt, H.K., and J.W. Moore. 2016. Journal of Applied Ecology. (link) (PDF)

Full press release (pdf)

Media coverage

Vancouver Sun (link)

Globe and Mail (link)

First Nations fishery for chum salmon in the lower Fraser River area. Photo Credit: Holly Nesbitt

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