Every year, sockeye salmon that have matured in the Pacific Ocean, make their way up west coast rivers to spawn. Many enter the Fraser River enroute to Shuswap Lake, and into the Adams River to lay their eggs. This is a dominant 4th year for the annual run, a pattern established after rock slides in the Fraser hampered the runs decades ago. The largest recent run, in 2010, saw 3.86 million fish arrive in the Shuswap. Those numbers have dropped significantly since then for a variety of reasons, including fishing, changes to habitat and warming water temperatures. In 2022, fewer than 600,000 may complete the journey. It’s another indicator of the decline in salmon species that has been observed throughout the Salish Sea.
We were fortunate to see the 2010 banner year’s run, so we were prepared for much less this time. The river didn’t run red with fish as it did then. Instead, an irregular stream of mostly sockeye and a few black chinook could be seen at the viewing points.
In years past, you could walk a forest trail beside the river and stop at many spots to watch the fish surging through the current, or flipping their tails to create a redd (a depression in the sand and rocks) for their eggs. Several high water events have redirected the river, eroding much of the old shoreline. In contrast, this year of drought has dried up many channels. The warm temperatures of late summer have left the water at a balmy 15 degrees, we were told on the day we visited the park. Hopefully, many more salmon were in a holding pattern farther downstream until cooler conditions triggered their final spawning rush.
Salmon have been a vital food source for 1000s of years for the Secwepemc people of Shuswap Lake and Adams Lake, so they have a deep interest in promoting conservation of this wild resource. Volunteers run the Salute to the Sockeye each dominant year, an event with interpretive facilities where visitors can appreciate and understand the ecology of the salmon and the environment. It was obvious by the crowds of school kids we saw during our own visit last week that the educational focus on this aspect of science is strong.
Will nature find a way to boost salmon numbers again in 4 years?