Tlet’inqox (Anaham Lake) Chief Joe Alphonse describes the 2012 Chilko River sockeye salmon run as strong as ever.
“We always get a good run. There will be reports coming in that there are missing salmon in the Fraser River, but that won’t be true for our Chilko Lake run. It’s the last healthy run left on the Fraser River and every year we get over a million fish,” Alphonse says.
Tsilhqot’in fishermen are catching fish in abundance, at Farwell Canyon and all the way up through to Siwash Bridge, east of Alexis Creek.
“Lots of people fishing and lots of people getting lots of fish, which is what we like to see. It’s gathering season for our people.”
Alphonse is planning to haul some horses with boxes down to the river to transport some of the catch home.
“The trails are still there. It’s time to get some horse tracks back on those trails again.”
While the runs won’t be measured until later, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans confirms the Chilko sockeye run is the largest population coming back so far.
“They’re the dominant ones,” DFO area director for the Interior Barry Rosenberger says.
“The Chilko River stock has been one of the strongest Fraser sockeye populations for quite a few number of years. There are populations, like the Adams River on the Shuswap, that is very large in one cycle year. It goes in this cycle of millions, few hundred thousands, few thousands and then a few hundreds.”
To some degree the Chilko run used to do that, he explains, but since the late 1980s it has been a very strong consistent performer every year.
“It’s the river system that has the most fish. If you’re averaging the four years together, and looked at who produces the most fish every year aggregate, the Chilko would be the strongest stock in the Fraser River right now.”
DFO has been working with the University of British Columbia and Carleton University to study the sockeye salmon in the Fraser River for a number of different scenarios.
“One of the things they’ve come up with is that the Chilko sockeye are like the Olympians of the sockeye in the Fraser River. They have the biggest hearts and can endure changes in temperature,” Rosenberger notes.
Part of their physique is due to where they spawn.
They have to swim up the highest elevation of any sockeye to spawn. Not the further distance, although it is quite a long distance, however, they do have to gain elevation.
“Over time they’ve probably developed as stronger athletes of a species, so they’ve been doing very well. In more recent years, we’ve had this warming of the water in the Fraser and it may well be something that’s benefitting the Chilko Lake system.”
As well, higher numbers of egg-to-fry survival have resulted and the fish are larger in size.
“When they’re leaving to go back to the ocean, their average size has been increasing,” Rosenberger says, adding the Chilko is one of the systems that has been studied consistently over 50 to 60 years so there is a large amount of data available for people wanting to make any comparisons.