Restoration of estuarine and tidal marsh habitats in Canada’s Fraser River estuary is imperative for the conservation and recovery of select depressed Pacific salmon populations and the many species that depend on them. In the 1930’s through to 1940’s, dredge spoils were deposited on East Swishwash Island, permanently altering the small delta island’s geomorphology and ecology. The purpose of this study was two-fold: 1.) Confirm and describe fish use of remnant tidal channel habitat on Swishwash Island, using juvenile Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) as a focal species and 2.) Quantify the historical tidal channel loss on East Swishwash Island and potential for restoration. Tidal channels and adjacent marshes were sampled for realized fish use, plant distributions, basic water parameters, and large woody debris (potential predator refugia). Remote data sets (historical and present-day) were used to quantify historic, current, and future tidal channel density scenarios. Swishwash tidal channels were utilized during the sampling period by Chinook salmon with comparable relative abundances and fork lengths. Tidal channel capacity and marsh habitat have been reduced by 50% on East Swishwash Island due to spoil deposition and marsh erosion. Based on reference conditions derived from undisturbed and historic marsh islands, restoring island elevations could facilitate the addition of 1 km of marsh edge while increasing tidal channel area on East Swishwash Island by nearly 200%. This would provide important habitat in a fragmented distributary of the Fraser River estuary to species of fish and wildlife, including 3 ecotypes of juvenile Chinook salmon.
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