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Decline of sockeye salmon on west coast

No shortage of salmon this year
No shortage of salmon this year

Lisa Varano, staff writer

October 24, 2010 — Sockeye salmon are in decline on British Columbia's Fraser river. And yet, this year brought a big salmon return. Fish experts are trying to figure out why.

Sockeye salmon
Sockeye salmon

The weather may have played a role in the big return of sockeye salmon on British Columbia's Fraser river this summer.

Up to 35 million sockeye swam towards spawning beds in the B.C. interior -- the biggest return in a century.

For fishermen who rely on sockeye salmon, it was a dramatic reversal of fortunes from one year to the next. Last year's small return of sockeye salmon was disastrous.

So why was there such a big return of salmon in 2010 if these fish have long been in decline?

Spotting salmon in the B.C. interior
Spotting salmon in the B.C. interior

“The weather has quite an effect on the salmon. It's been ideal this year. With the cool weather and the rain, the water has been high and the temperature of the water is low,” says Jim McLellan of the Adams River Salmon Society, based northeast of Kamloops.

The decline of the sockeye salmon in the Fraser river is so serious that an inquiry is looking at the cause. Known as the Cohen Commission, it will submit an interim report on Friday, and issue a final report in May. The commission is considering such factors as environmental changes and water temperature.

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