Fraser River Basin

The Fraser River Basin

BC's Fraser River Basin
BC’s Fraser River Basin (click to enlarge).

Consisting of 34 intricately linked and interdependent riversheds, the Fraser River Basin drains 21 million hectares (more than a quarter) of British Columbia, and supports more salmon runs than any other river in the world.1 It is home to seven salmon species, including steelhead, and many other fish species, including giant sturgeon. It is BC’s most productive waterfowl breeding area.

Explore the Fraser River Basin’s salmon and water issues through this interactive map from the Watershed Watch Society.

A home to First Nations for thousands of years, the Fraser River has many names. Traditional names include Lhta Koh (meaning the confluence of many rivers in the Dakelth language) and the Stó:lô (a Halq’eméylem word for river). In 1808, David Thompson named it the Fraser River to honour Simon Fraser, his North West Company colleague and the first European to travel the river to its lower reaches.

The Fraser River Basin has about 1.2 million people living within it, more than 60 percent of BC’s total population.2 It is BC’s economic engine, supporting some of BC’s most important commercial, recreational and aboriginal fisheries, three quarters of its value-added manufacturing, millions of hectares of forest, almost half of BC’s agricultural land, and many active mines.

Biogeoclimatic zones of British Columbia (click to enlarge).
Biogeoclimatic zones of British Columbia.

The Fraser River Basin represents 11 of BC’s 14 biogeoclimatic zones (map courtesy of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations – Research Branch).

Compared to other river basins around the world, the Fraser is still relatively wild and intact. However, the region’s economy and population has grown rapidly. We are now consuming the river basin’s natural capital faster than it can be replenished and creating pollution faster than it can be absorbed. Distress signals include disappearing salmon runs, loss of wetland and in-stream habitat, increasing silt and toxin levels, and a decrease in biodiversity.

The Fraser River was designated a Canadian Heritage River in 1998, and is the longest river in the Canadian Heritage Rivers System. It is the longest river in British Columbia, and the tenth longest in Canada.

1) Watershed Watch:
2) The Canadian Atlas online: