Sockeye spawning in a tributary of Hooknose Lake
It’s a few weeks belated but I thought it would be worthwhile posting a wrap up of our fall field season. The last few weeks in Vancouver have been a whirlwind of PhD applications, manuscript revisions and playing catch up with colleagues and friends, but I finally have a bit of time to sit down and write about how things went this fall.
All told the season was a tremendous success. Out of the 248 tagged sockeye we passed above the weir on the Koeye River we resighted 76 on the spawning grounds above the lake. We also counted sockeye and collected otoliths in Namu Lake, Hooknose, Kisameet and Gullchuks providing new information on sockeye abundance, spatial structure and life-history diversity in these watersheds.
It was a strange year weather wise with several bouts of heavy rain in September followed by one of the driest Octobers on record. The falling water during the latter half of the spawning period made for great counting conditions, however in most tributaries the water was too low for coho which would normally begin spawning in October to have made much of a showing. Up and down the coast it seemed to be a bit of a down year for sockeye, with closures of the commercial and aboriginal fisheries on the Skeena and poor returns to many systems along the coast and on Vancouver Island. We found the same general trend in all of our systems on the Central Coast, however it seemed that fish that spent two years in the ocean were particularly rare. Given the apparent coast wide pattern of poor returns it seems reasonable to infer that marine survival was poor in that cohort of outmigrating fish. At Koeye things weren’t quite as bad as three-salt fish tend to make up a much large proportion of the population there, and everywhere we went we saw large numbers of jacks (fish that have spent only one summer at sea) creating hope that next summers two-salt run will be strong.
At the falls in upper Gullchuks
While there were lots of great moments, the highlight of the fall might have been a walk Josh Vickers and I took into Upper Gullchuks. Walking the main tributary of the upper lake we came to a large falls which I had never seen. Below the falls there were several hundred coho staging, waiting for flow and temperature conditions which would allow their passage into the watershed above. With the high concentrations the bears were clearly taking advantage, and there were dozens of freshly killed carcasses scattered along the stream bank. Counting the fish as we worked our way up river I bent down and picked up one especially fresh looking coho with the top of its skull ripped off by a bear. Upon lifting the fish from the water it gave a twitch and I knew the bear was close by, and just a few minutes later we heard a crash spotted a black bear running away through the woods. A few weeks later Collin Reid and I returned to the same reach of river and found it empty of coho, apparently they had all made the passage over the falls.
Another exciting development is that I will be starting my PhD at Simon Fraser in January. While I had long been on the fence about returning to school, the opportunity to spend the next few years building on the foundation laid over the past two years on the Central Coast was too much to pass up. I will continue working in my capacity as Salmon Program Coordinator with Qqs and will be joining Jonathan Moore’s lab at SFU. While the exact details of my PhD research remain TBD, the work will focus on understanding how watershed gemorphology creates and maintains diverse salmon life-histories and the implications of this life-history diversity for sustainable fisheries.