Vancouver Island's Salmon Returns Dismal With Exceptions For Coho and Chum

Wildlife News

Judith Lavoie, Times Colonist
Published: Saturday, December 01, 2007

Salmon returns around Vancouver Island were dismal this year, despite the occasional coho and chum bright spots.First sockeye numbers plummeted and then chinook failed to turn up in hoped-for numbers.

Low chinook returns had been predicted because of poor survival rates for fish that headed into the Pacific Ocean in the spring of 2005.
It could have been the temperature or lack of food, but the conditions were unfavourable for survival," said Arlene Tompkins, Department of Fisheries and Oceans area chief of stock assessment for the South Coast. Last year, there was a sharp decline in returning coho that went into the ocean in 2005.

At Goldstream, only four chinook made it back and they were all males, said park naturalist Darren Copley.The main run of chum was relatively good, however, with about 20,000 fish in the river -- compared with 35,000 last year and a low of 5,500 the previous year.DFO regards the river as full at 15,000, the number it uses to open fisheries, but in earlier years, there have been 40,000 to 60,000 fish in the Goldstream River, Copley said. "I don't think 20,000 makes our river full."

The key Robertson Creek Hatchery on the Somass River collected enough chinook eggs to reach its target, but only about 17,000 chinook made it back to the Somass system -- about 10,000 fewer than expected, Tompkins said.Coho returns of about 40,000 were slightly less than expected, while only about 125,000 sockeye returned to Barkley Sound, 75,000 fewer than forecasted.

DFO has said mackerel eating smolts may have been one of the major problems in Barkley Sound for the fish, which went to sea in 2005.At Nitinat, the chinook run was about 9,000, compared to 17,000 last year, said hatchery manager Rob Brouwer.

"The biggest reason is there are no three-year-olds. Whatever went to sea in 2005 didn't survive. Maybe it was no food or maybe we can blame it all on global warming."The chum run at Nitinat is about half of last year's, with 325,000 fish. However, coho numbers are up to about 6,000, compared to last year's low of 2,000.

At Puntledge Hatchery, where the focus has been on building up chinook runs, the news was a little rosier.About 1,500 of the summer run of chinook returned, which is better than in some previous years, said hatchery operations manager Brian Munro. The fall chinook run was about 8,000, he said."That's one of our bright points because [that run was] deemed extinct about 19 years ago."

In contrast, only about 2,700 coho returned. "We would like to see 10,000 in the river," Munro said.

Targets for returning chum were reached at Puntledge, but the 75,000 fish represent about a 50 per cent reduction.

Will Soltau of the Living Oceans Society said it may be impossible to control conditions in the open ocean, including an influx of predators such as hake, pollock and mackerel, which are apparently arriving in the waters off Vancouver Island because of warming ocean temperatures.But Soltau said more should be done to ensure pristine freshwater environments for salmon, noting habitat destruction through development, logging and mining near salmon rivers is part of the problem.

In the ocean, open-net pens of salmon farms must be taken out of wild-salmon migration corridors to reduce the number of sea lice, he said. Pacific salmon forecast bleak.

Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007


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