The 2010 Fraser Sockeye return is a phenomena. The fishermen have not seen it this good for 50 years. They keep thinking the last sockeye has entered Johnstone Strait, but the fish just keep pouring in from the Pacific at both ends of Vancouver Island. I go and float with them every morning in Queen Charlotte Strait and whatch them finning all around me, rolling at the surface like porpoises, always pointing south, never stopping. Hundreds of miles away newspapers in Fraser River towns are reporting an economic boon fromall the people pouring in to the fish.
Ah this is one amazing animal….. They are so successful they can share their wealth prolifically and still reproduce themselves. This run is reminder of what this fish can do, its sheer ability to generate life and capacity as an economic powerhouse.
The Fraser sockeye scientists did not know this many sockeye were going to return. The indicators were all good, but the enormous unexpected decline last year has made them cautious. They are running blind because they don’t know what is turning the sockeye on and off.
What the scientists do know is that this lineage of Fraser sockeye has consistently been less damaged than all the other year classes. They don’t know why. The many runs of Fraser sockeye are like strands of a rope. Each are a distinct line coming and going to sea in different years, using unique spawning grounds and they twine together to make one of the largest salmon returns in the world. Most of the lines are declining severely. What we have this year is an exceptionally good return of the last thriving lineage. This is not a rebound. The young of last year’s feeble return are in the lakes and awaiting their turn. If they suffer the fate of their parents they are extinquished.
Last year’s crash was so shocking because as smolts the 2009 sockeye had been large and numerous. To predict run sizes scientists use numbers like the size and number of smolts that went to sea, the seawater temperature, plankton density, how many jacks return early and other factors. This is not all that different from how fishermen predict runs, just more math! Over the past 18 years the ability to predict Fraser sockeye has become increasingly difficult. To scientists this means there is something they are not measuring, something new has arrived on scene since 1992s.
The scientific measurements indicated the 2010 sockeye would be large, but the scientists could not risk giving people false hope. Llast year was a harsh lesson for all. We are running blind on a resource that brings an enormous pulse of wealth the entire coast of BC and then into the river where they feed a watershed covering 60% of British Columbia.
The 2010 sockeye are telling us the river and ocean can still make phenomenal number of fish! It is up to us if we get to keep them coming home like this.