Scientists are recommending that the federal government add sockeye salmon to Canada's list of at-risk species after an assessment found a sharp decline in the animal's presence in the Fraser River.

"Fraser River Sockeye was once the basis of a large and vibrant B.C fishery," the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada said in a release Monday.

"Periodic collapses have caused serious concern, with 2016 seeing the lowest number of salmon returning to the Fraser River since records began in 1893."

In their assessment, scientists with COSEWIC recommended labelling eight of the 24 sockeye populations in the Fraser as endangered, two as threatened and five as "special concern," which means they might become threatened or endangered.

Nine populations were found to be stable or increasing.

If Ottawa decides to list sockeye in the Species at Risk Act, some populations of the iconic fish would automatically gain protection under federal laws that prohibit harming at-risk species or their habitats.

SARA requires the federal government to develop recovery plans for endangered species with a year.

Environmental and conservation groups were quick to express their support for COSEWIC's recommendation, but some warned that the designation won't do much to guarantee the future of sockeye populations if SARA isn't properly implemented and enforced.

"An at-risk designation should at least guarantee a timely recovery plan. It doesn't,” Megan Leslie, CEO of the World Wildlife Fund's Canadian branch, said in a statement.

"Improving the implementation of SARA, by meeting legal timelines and fully funding SARA-related programs (including COSEWIC activities), is an essential first step.

COSEWIC is an independent scientific body that assesses the health of various wildlife populations in Canada and makes recommendations to the federal government.

Under SARA, a species can be listed as extirpated if it no longer exists in the wild or endangered if it is facing extinction. A species is threatened if it is likely to become endangered if action isn't taken, or of special concern if it could become threatened or endangered.

The committee looked at 43 other species as part of its most recent assessment.

Dolphin and Union Caribou in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories were assessed as endangered, as were some populations of the Pacific Grey Whale.