By Cam Fortems
Kamloops This Week
The number of sockeye that returned to the South Thompson and Adams River in the fall is the lowest on record for the cycle dating back to 1939.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has released its late-run sockeye report detailing record-low numbers of returning salmon in the South Thompson; lower Fraser; Harrison-Lillooet; and Seton-Anderson (Lillooet) regions
For all those runs, the number of returning salmon numbered just 14 per cent of the brood year 2011.
The numbers in the South Thompson were worse, with only six per cent of the 2011 brood year returning — a total of 9,700 sockeye — and just three per cent of the average returning fish recorded for nearly eight decades.
The peak in the four-year, sub-dominant cycle was 1991, when more than 1.2-million sockeye returned to the South Thompson.
“It’s worrying, for sure,” said Kim Fulton, a retired teacher from Armstrong who has been involved with salmon education and the Adams River run for decades.
“There’s so many factors. They had the Cohen Commission and I followed that and read as much as I could. I don’t think anyone knows.”
The commission studied the collapse of the 2009 sockeye run.
Ironically, the next year produced the largest run in the province’s history, something that caught scientists and ecologists off-guard.
Fulton has been involved extensively with education and habitat improvement in the Interior, something he said is important to sockeye conservation.
But, he believes the larger problem is outside the rivers and tributaries.
“My sense is problems are in the ocean,” he said, citing temperatures and climate change as factors.
Last summer, much of B.C. suffered from drought conditions, but the report said water temperatures on all the spawning grounds were favourable in the fall of 2015.
Water levels also gradually increased in the South Thompson during the spawning period.
Another concern noted in the report was sockeye that died before getting to spawning grounds, as well as low spawning success.