Salmonid Enhancement Program

Photo: Salmon

The Salmonid Enhancement Program (SEP) plays a key role in DFO's work to conserve and manage Pacific salmon stocks. The program's activities aim to rebuild vulnerable salmon stocks, provide harvest opportunities, work with First Nations and coastal communities in economic development, and improve fish habitat to sustain salmon populations.

About the program

Adult salmonids (sockeye, chum, coho, pinks and chinook salmon; cutthroat and steelhead trout) provide economic benefits through the commercial and sport fisheries today, just as they have formed the basis for survival in British Columbia throughout history. First Nations caught these fish each year at the river mouths, or at rapids and shallows far upriver. Smoked and stored, they were a winter staple for coastal tribes and were traded for goods from the interior.

When Europeans first arrived, they were stunned by the abundance of fish. Salmon were thick in the waters every fall. Soon an industry began, catching salmon and smoking or salting it for export. Canning was perfected and the race for the fish was on. Boats grew, equipment was improved and fishermen increased their skill. Inevitably, the fish felt the impact and salmonid populations began to decline.

In 1977, backed by strong public support, the Fisheries and Oceans Canada launched the Salmonid Enhancement Program (SEP). Its goal was to arrest - and reverse - that decline. It did not undertake the task alone. Also involved, with responsibility for steelhead and cutthroat trout, was the B.C. Ministry of Environment. As well, this government program set a new precedent as many B.C. citizens became vital, hands-on partners in the effort. While Fisheries and Oceans Canada built major facilities - hatcheries and spawning channels - individuals and groups went to work cleaning up damaged streams and building small incubation boxes.

In a further effort to keep SEP in tune with local needs, the Community Economic Development Program was initiated, placing contracts with community-based groups to operate local enhancement projects.

Today, the scope of SEP is varied. Major hatcheries and spawning channels, on some of North America's greatest salmonid-producing rivers, incubate and release millions of juveniles each year. Slightly smaller, but impressively effective, are the CEDP projects. Scientific research contributed another technique; on Vancouver Island fertilization of lakes has greatly increased production of sockeye.

In some areas, SEP has turned to smaller technologies. Semi-natural spawning and rearing channels that require little or no ongoing staff or maintenance are producing fish in remote regions. Fish ladders and fishways provide access for spawners to areas once barren of salmonids. Volunteer projects have grown and matured. Besides leaving a legacy of improved habitat in many urban areas, these projects often produce salmonids from small, genetically-unique populations that might otherwise have vanished forever. And many, many neighbourhood creeks receive, every spring, a few healthy fry that have been lovingly raised - in the classroom - by school children.

Not every project has been successful, and many individual runs are still threatened by too many fishermen and too little habitat. But today, in most rivers and streams, salmonids return every fall as they have done for thousands of years. They continue to provide economic benefits. As they enter our rivers, they make another contribution, too, for salmonids in the waters are part of the West Coast's heritage - a living link with our history. With its unique partnerships between the federal and provincial governments, communities, groups and individuals, SEP has found a way to strengthen that link and carry it into the 21st century.