Nechako River

Nechako River

Nechako Reservoir and Watershed

The Nechako River drains the Nechako Plateau east of the Coast Mountains and flows north toward Fort Fraser, then east to Prince George where it enters the Fraser River. "Nechako" is an anglicization of netʃa koh, its name in the Carrier language meaning "big river". 

The Nechako River's main tributaries are the Stuart River, which enters about 45 kilometres east of Vanderhoof; the Endako River; the Chilako River, which enters about 15 kilometres west of Prince George; and the Nautley River, a short stream that drains Fraser Lake. Other tributaries include the Cheslatta River, which drains Cheslatta Lake and enters the Nechako at the foot of the Nechako Canyon via Cheslatta Falls, near Kenney Dam and the Nechako Reservoir.

The Nechako River is home to over 20 species of fish, including Chinook salmon, sockeye salmon and the Nechako White Sturgeon.

Nechako Chinook

The 1987 Settlement Agreement sets out a “Conservation Goal,” defined as:

...The total population of Chinook to be conserved is that represented by the average escapement to the river plus the average harvest during the period 1980-1986. Department of Fisheries and Oceans escapement records during this period averaged 1,550 with a range of 850-2,000. In view of the known inaccuracies in spawner count data the working group recognizes that the estimated escapement is on average 3,100 spawning Chinook, but ranges from 1,700 to 4,000. This number is referred to as the target population.

The highest Chinook escapements to the mainstem of the Nechako River before the inception of the NFCP were recorded in 1951 (3,500) and 1952 (4,000) prior to construction of Kenney Dam and the regulation of the Nechako River. Based on information from Jaremovic and Rowland (1988), escapements fell ten-fold with the closure of the dam (1952), but between 200 and 1,500 spawners were reported in the next four years (1953 to 1956) as the last progeny of the pre-dam era returned to spawn. By the fifth year, 1957, no spawners were reported and none were observed in 1958 and 1959. Then in 1960 a total of 75 spawners were reported; escapements slowly increased thereafter. In recent years, escapements in some years have exceeded the recorded pre-dam escapements.

The trend in Chinook escapement estimates since 1988 when the NFCP began to enumerate spawners. The chart below indicates that the Conservation Goal has generally been met with the exception of 5 years: 1994, 1995, 2007, 2012, 2013 and 2017.


Nechako Chinook escapement 1951-present

Time series of Chinook escapements to the Nechako River between 1951 - 2019. Black shaded bars indicate pre-NFCP monitoring data; blue bars indicate NFCP monitoring results and yellow bars are DFO estimates provided by the Stock Assessment Division. Red-shaded rectangle indicates the upper and lower limits of the Conservation Goal established as part of the 1987 Settlement Agreement. Click on the graph to enlarge.


The highest escapement over the duration of NFCP monitoring (1988 - 2018) occurred in 2015 when 8,300 spawners were enumerated. In 2017, the recorded escapement was 588 spawners, the lowest observed over the NFCP monitoring period. However, in 2018, Nechako Chinook escapements rebounded and 1,670 fish were enumerated on the spawning grounds.

There is widespread recognition that Southern BC Chinook populations, including those in the Fraser Watershed, have been declining. This has triggered a number of assessment and planning processes, including an Independent Advisory Panel Report and the Southern BC Chinook Strategic Planning Initiative. A 2018 assessment was conducted by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and concluded that of 16 Southern BC Chinook populations studied, eight were Endangered, four were Threatened and one is considered Special Concern. Nechako Chinook are part of the Mid-Fraser Summer Chinook Conservation Unit that was designated by COSEWIC as Threatened. As such, it is essential to maintain annual Nechako Chinook escapement monitoring to continue to track the future status of the population.

In 2019 many of the salmon runs in the Middle and Upper Fraser River failed due to the High Bar slide

The NFCP was greatly concerned about the impact of the slide on the survival of Nechako Chinook spawners in 2019. Fisheries and Oceans Canada conducted helicopter overflights in September, 2019 to enumerate the spawner population and calculated that 1438 adults returned to the river. While this escapement is below the lower limit of the Conservation Goal, it is higher than the returns that NFCP monitored in 5 separate years since 1989. The NFCP does not expect there will be residual impacts from the slide on the Nechako Chinook population.

Nechako Sockeye

Four different sockeye populations utilize the Nechako River as a migration corridor during upstream adult migration and downstream smolt emigration. These sockeye populations are highly regarded by Upper Fraser First Nations. Link to UFFCA-NFCP Report

In 2017 the COSEWIC assessed Fraser River sockeye and listed eight Fraser sockeye populations as Endangered, two as Threatened and five as Special Concern. Following is the COSEWIC status for sockeye that utilize the Nechako River as a migration corridor.

Status Sockeye Population Nechako River Utilization
Endangered Early Stuart Migrates through lower Nechako, up Stuart River to spawning grounds
Endangered Late Stuart Migrates through lower Nechako, up Stuart River to spawning grounds
Special Concern Francois Migrates through lower and middle Nechako, up Nautley River to spawning grounds
Not at Risk Nadina Migrates through lower and middle Nechako, up Nautley River to spawning grounds

COSEWIC further assigned a threat impact of High - Medium for Early Stuart sockeye Designatable Units (DUs) and identified several threats:

  • Fisheries removals; 
  • Depressed marine survival;
  • Freshwater temperature extremes;
  • Continued warming of the Fraser River throughout the 21st century which could lead to severe losses during adult migrations en-route to spawning grounds; and
  • Warmer winters and earlier snow melt are expected with climate change and alterations in the timing of the freshet is predicted to affect this early run time sockeye population.

The main management tool available to the NFCP to moderate high river temperatures is the Summer Temperature Management Program (STMP) and this Program will continue to operate in future consistent with the 1987 Settlement Agreement requirements.