The sockeye salmon run up the Fraser river every year, returning to the rivers and lakes where they were hatched to spawn the next generation. Every fourth year is a dominant year, where there are often several times as many fish as other years in the cycle. This year, 2014, is a dominant year and it was expected around 23 million sockeye would return.
This year, like many other dominant years, the REM quantitative fisheries reasearch group followed them back to Adams River, near the Shuswap Lake in interior BC, for the Salute to the Sockeye. The Shuswap stock of sockeye is currently the largest and most productive stock of the Fraser Sockeye, with as many as 2.5 million returning spawners in one year on record. Given that this was to be a dominant year we could expect the number of spawners to be high, despite the fact that we visited well before the peak of the run.
We were 9 humans and 2 dogs in total: seven students, Prof. Sean Cox, his wife Anniko and their two dogs, Kota and Pom Pom. We walked around the riverbank and attempted to get some good photos of the sockeye and each other. I got the closest to the salmon, but was also the only one to get scolded by another tourist for wading in the river.
The week before the trip, one of the other fish group members suggested that we don wetsuits and snorkel with the salmon at the mouth of the river. Being the fish group’s resident overenthusiastic Australian, I jumped at the chance and borrowed all the gear that I would need. After spluttering my way through relearning how to use a snorkel after 20 years (it’s harder than I thought), I managed to float calmly in the river mouth for around half an hour and got a couple of `nice’ shots.
We camped together at Lake Shuswap Provincial Park in Scotch Creek, just around the lake from the festival. Dinner was a campfire-stove pot luck, with delicious salads, ribs and roast veges, and more than one person slipping the dogs a treat or two. The rest of the night was spent chatting around the campfire, swapping stories, tall and short. A great time for new and old fish group members to get to know each other, and take a break during a busy time of year.
On the drive home, we took a detour through the Fraser Canyon rather than the Coquiahalla. It was my first time through, and I have to wonder why it took me so long to pass through there! We stopped at the Hell’s Gate slide location to learn about the historic event that almost stopped salmon from running further up the Fraser, and the fishways that were constructed to help them pass through.
All in all, it was a great trip and an awesome way to start the year in the REM Quantitative Fisheries research group. Perhaps we’ll make it for the sub-dominant trip next year.