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How one B.C. lake is getting its salmon back

Adams Lake Indian Band will be enriching the nutrient deprived lake in April, part of a four year plan to redeem wild salmon populations.
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March 14, 2021 - 1:00 PM

In a few weeks, the Adams Lake Indian Band will start fertilizing Adams Lake.

It may seem counterintuitive but when April rolls around, fertilizer will flow into the lake from a barge and studies suggest it will help repopulate a space where the salmon population was once robust.

“Think of it as a garden. You fertilize a garden based on what the plants need in the soil — you need to adjust the nitrogen and phosphorus,” Don Holmes said of the four-year plan.

Holmes is a registered professional biologist and has studied watersheds with various agencies for decades. He said the plan will help the nutrient-deprived lake bloom more plankton for salmon to eat.

“The phytoplankton take up the nutrients to grow. They’re like vegetables for the lake,” he said.

READ MORE: 1,000 km upstream: 150,000 sockeye to make the journey back to the southern Okanagan

The fertilizer injection acts like fish carcasses would after the yearly salmon run. The fish-remains leave food for the plankton, creating a sustainable life cycle.

Adams Lake has had a hundred years of bad luck in maintaining the sockeye population. A study on the lake and fertilizer efforts in 1996 indicated that the sockeye population dropped when dams were built by loggers in 1908. The dams were in place until 1922.

“Loggers built splash dams so they could back the water up and shoot the logs down the lake,” Holmes said. “Then the Hell’s Gate slide in 1914 wiped out the rest of the sockeye.”

The 1996 fertilizing was successful, and Holmes said it was anticipated that over 200,000 sockeye would return.

“Unfortunately, fish exploitation exploded at the mouth of the Fraser River in 1997 and only 200 salmon returned to spawn that year.”

The study suggests that Adams Lake could contain up to 26 million sockeye. Those high numbers are much higher than possible after a four-year plan, but the project is aimed to help make the lake sustainable on its own.

While the Adams River salmon run is extremely popular, even hosting the Salute to the Sockeye event every four years, Holmes said the upper Adams Lake population has struggled to recover since the early 20th century.

The fertilizer project is funded with over $2 million dollars from a provincial and federal government joint fund to redeem salmon stocks, and the fund has over $142 million slated for similar projects across the province.

Similar efforts have been made on Kootenay Lake since 1992 with major success, among other lakes across the province, according to Holmes.

“Basically it’s a proven method,” he said. “We’re trying to emulate the natural cycle, then let it take its course.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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