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Why this year's Adams River salmon run may not have been as impressive as you'd hoped

Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
November 14, 2018 - 6:30 PM

ADAMS RIVER - A slight change in fish behaviour could be why this year’s much anticipated salmon run on the famed Adams River left some visitors wondering where all the salmon were.

Expectations were high given that 2018 is a dominant year for late-run sockeye returning to the Shuswap. The event comes every four years, with some 700,000 salmon recorded on the Adams River alone in 2014 (many more spawned in other rivers and tributaries in the Shuswap), and about 3.8 million four years before that (2010 was a particularly spectacular year, as spectators will recall).

In celebration of the dominant year, the Adams River Salmon Society hosted a Salute to the Sockeye, a three-week event in late September and the month of October. According to the society, the Adams River sockeye run is the largest in North America.

This year, however, things appeared to be off to a slow start — and it looks like that’s because the late-run sockeye truly lived up to their name.

According to Dean Allan, a chief of resource management with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, these particular sockeye started their journey a little later than everyone thought they would.

“One of the things that occurred this year that may have given people the impression there weren’t that many fish is the late run fish have a behaviour pattern where they hold in a marine area and then come in river,” Allan says.

But a number of years ago, they changed that pattern and started coming in river earlier, he says. That’s been the norm for years, but this fall, he says the sockeye returned to their old pattern.

“In recent years, in late September and early October we had been seeing a lot more fish into the Adams River, whereas this year the fish came in later, so people who may have been out there earlier didn’t see as many.”

The overall estimate for sockeye returning to the Fraser River was also lower than first projected. Pre-season forecasts in the springtime pegged the return somewhere between five and 35 million, with a mid-range forecast of 13.9 million. The latest in-season estimate for sockeye making it to the Fraser River was 4.7 million, Allan says. That number only goes down as the fish make their way further upstream because there is some catch that occurs on the river itself, he says.

But that doesn’t mean there weren’t lots and lots of spawning salmon to be seen this year on the Adams River. Despite being fashionably late to their own party, the sockeye didn’t disappoint when they arrived. Just take a look at the Adams River Salmon Society’s Facebook page to see photos and videos of the striking red sockeye making their way up the river.

Fisheries staff have been counting the salmon for weeks through visual surveys, mark and recapture programs, and the use of sonar counters, but the total number of spawning salmon won’t be known until early 2019, Allan says. He wouldn't comment on any general estimates for the number of sockeye that returned to spawn on the Adams River this year. 

The forecast this year was slightly lower than in 2014, Allan says, so it’s likely there will be less than the 700,000 fish that returned to spawn on the Adams River four years ago.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 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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