Bristol Bay Sockeye© Ben Knight

Stronghold Approach


Stronghold Approach

Protecting the best: Proactive conservation

It is easier and cheaper to conserve a salmon river while it’s still healthy, than to fix that river once it’s broken.

We take this preemptive approach as much as possible in the North Pacific.  But on-the-ground realities dictate different approaches to protecting strongholds, depending on location.  As the map below illustrates, an abundance of strong salmon runs in northern regions contrasts with diminished runs in southern regions.

Map of Pacific Rim with important salmon watersheds shaded blue.
This 2010 map shows the south to north march of salmon decline, with the blue watersheds remaining as the strongest – full of abundant salmon with diverse life histories, and least affected by hatcheries.

Northern regions

In the northernmost section of the Pacific, British Columbia, Alaska, and the Russian Far East host a wealth of healthy salmon rivers. On these rivers, excellent habitat support healthy fisheries and strong salmon-dependent communities. We work across these regions to protect salmon abundance, by stopping development from eroding healthy habitat along rivers, fighting illegal and legal overharvesting of salmon, and supporting sustainable fishing livelihoods. On especially important river systems, such as those in Bristol Bay, Alaska or the Kol River in Kamchatka, Russia, we have focused our energies on preemptive protection from damaging development and landscape-level changes that would affect the state of salmon across the entire North Pacific.

Lower regions

In Washington, Oregon, California and Japan, we invest our energy in individual stronghold rivers, as anchors to recover diminished salmon runs throughout the lower Pacific salmon regions. Without protecting these centers of wild salmon abundance and diversity, endangered populations may not have a chance to bounce back.

In 2009, a core group of U.S. federal and state agencies and organizations, including Wild Salmon Center, called for the creation of a network of stronghold rivers.

To map strongholds in the Pacific Northwest, stronghold partners organized by state and scored populations based on the number of wild spawning fish, the diversity of life histories (those unique salmon development and migration patterns that vary across populations and places), and the influence of hatchery reared-fish on their wild counterparts. After using these criteria to determine “strong populations,” the partners then assessed overall watershed health to generate a final map. Each state then submitted its map to the partnership board for review and approval.

These maps, finished in 2010, represent version 1.0 for lower North America. They will be updated to consider climate change and population resilience, and continue to serve as guideposts for Wild Salmon Center and other organizations and agencies working to protect and recover wild salmon.

Latest stronghold maps

North American Salmon Stronghold Partners

  • US Fish and Wildlife Service
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Bonneville Power Administration
  • Northwest Power Conservation Council
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • US Forest Service
  • Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission
  • Alaska Department of Fish and Game
  • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Washington Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office
  • Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Oregon Governor’s Natural Resources Office
  • Idaho Office of Species Conservation
  • California Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Trout Unlimited
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Wild Salmon Center
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