South Surrey hatchery volunteers are breathing a sigh of relief following a near-record return of chinook salmon in the Little Campbell.
Uncertainty was high this season after a near-total lack of rainfall left the riverbed close-to-impossible for returning fish to access.
“What we didn’t know was how the fish were going to react to the low water levels,” Roy Thomson, who operates the hatchery’s fish fence, said Monday (Nov. 28).
Fortunately, “they didn’t seem to mind.”
“We got over 700 chinook, which is the second-highest total since we started keeping record 40 years ago.”
Each October, the group takes fish from the river into the facility, where they extract the eggs and raise the juveniles until they are ready to be released to make their way out to sea. Both wild and hatchery fish return to the Little Campbell River every fall, but only a certain number of wild fish can be captured, as regulated by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).
Chinook salmon are the first to return in the fall season, typically right at the beginning of October. In an average year, 500 chinook – sometimes called spring salmon – spawn in the Little Campbell River.
Thomson noted that the species’ numbers at the hatchery have been “way above average” for the past five years, although he was at a loss as to what might be behind the impressive runs.
While the chinook run is basically done, there are still more salmon to come; specifically, chum and coho.
So far, the chum return, at about 260 as of Monday, is “right on target,” Thomson said.
For coho, the hatchery return depends on how many smolts volunteers released, which Thomson said has varied. For the wilds, meanwhile, the return is sitting at around 80 per cent of average; around 1,800, compared to the usual 2,300.
Coho, Thomson noted, are a more shy fish than chinook, and much fussier than chum – they like the water levels up and plenty of turbidity.
“As soon as that water gets some colour to it, boom, the coho will run,” he said. “I’m still expecting to see some more.”
Thomson said this year’s rainfall records are not dissimilar to those three years ago, in 2019. That year, the total coho return – including hatchery fish – was 2,600.
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