Interior Fraser Steelhead

Steelhead are an anadromous form of the rainbow trout, meaning, they spend their juvenile life in freshwater (1-4 years) and then migrate to the ocean for 2-4 years and then return to their home streams to spawn. Steelhead are unique among the Pacific salmon in that they have the ability to spawn more than once (called iteroparity).

Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

Steelhead are frequently found in systems that have freshwater resident populations of rainbow trout.  Under the right conditions, steelhead can breed with resident rainbow trout with mixed outcomes.  Offspring from this pairing can result in fewer steelhead produced but may also act as a potential repository for later steelhead production. This is an active area of research.

After steelhead return from sea, adult steelhead are easy to distinguish from adult rainbow trout that reside with them because steelhead are much bigger.  For the purpose of implementing freshwater sport fishing regulations, steelhead/rainbow trout caught in steelhead bearing waterbodies are classified as steelhead if their fork length exceeds 50 cm.

In 2018, citing critically low spawning returns, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) concluded that Interior Fraser Steelhead were at imminent risk of extinction. Recognising risks to steelhead populations, the province has regulated catch and release only fisheries for Wild steelhead since 1997. The province continues to actively pursue recovery through a range of efforts.

Fast Facts: Population Risks and Trends (February 2023) [PDF 365KB]

For the Thompson watershed, the current spawning population forecast for 2022 (updated November 25, 2022) is 339. For the Chilcotin watershed, the 2022 current spawning population forecast was updated at the same time to 166. These estimates are unchanged from the previous two updates (November 3, 2022 and October 19, 2022). These values places the results in 40th position (from highest to lowest population estimates) over a 46-year monitoring time frame for the Thompson watershed and the 44th position for the Chilcotin watershed over a 52-year monitoring time frame. Both populations are classified as an Extreme Conservation Concern. BC has been taking recovery actions for years. The Province is currently undertaking the development of a comprehensive population-recovery plan, working with all parties who impact IFS. The BC Action Plan and Activities Report posted below provides details on this work.

Test Fisheries

Interior Fraser Steelhead population estimates are informed by DFO test fisheries on the Fraser River

Population Status Reports

Note: Fall estimates are based on catches at the Albion Test Fishery and are used to forecast expected spawning returns for the following spring/summer. Summer estimates are based on actual spawning ground counts.








Action Plans and Activities Reports

Provincial Framework for Steelhead Management in BC [PDF 420 KB]

Steelhead Stream Classification Policy [PDF 80 KB]

2019 BC-DFO Action Plan for interior Fraser Steelhead [PDF 974KB]


The Migration Timing of Adult Interior Fraser River Steelhead in the Lower Fraser River (2021) [PDF 1.29MB]

COSEWIC Emergency Assessment of Thompson River and Chilcotin River Populations (2018) [PDF 600KB]

Fishing Mortality Trends for Thompson River Steelhead from 1991 to 2015 (2016) [PDF 748KB]

Stock Productivity, Carrying Capacity, and Habitat Utilization of the Thompson River Steelhead as Estimated from 2001-2012 Juvenile Abundance Data. (2015) [PDF 737KB]

Management Reference Points for the Thompson and Chilcotin late summer-run Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) Stock Aggregates (2013) [PDF 449KB]

Population Attributes for Fraser River Late-Run Summer Steelhead (2012) [PDF 1.1MB]

Migration characteristics and stock composition of Interior Fraser Steelhead as determined by radio telemetry, 1996-1999 (2001) [PDF 2.4 MB]

Review of the Fraser River Steelhead Trout (1998) [PDF 4.6MB]

Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society reports (external link)