Adams River Sockeye Salmon Run 2010

Four years ago millions of tiny eggs lay in the gravel bed of the Adams River. Those not carefully covered ended up feeding other fish and wildlife or dried out on the river bank.

Sockeye eggs
These exposed eggs dry out or be eaten

The eggs that did hatch provided more food for predators. Out of several thousand eggs laid by each female and fertilized by waiting miles, only a handful survived to make the perilous journey down the Thompson and Fraser rivers to reach the ocean.

Sockeye eggs
The beginning and end of the sockeye lifecycle

Now, their lifespan coming to an end, the millions of salmon that evaded predators and the nets of fishers have swum 480 km, averaging 30 km a day, against the rivers’ currents and rapids. They have returned to complete their lifecycle along the 12-kilometre length of Adams River.

Struggling against current
Sockeye struggling against the current in the Adams River

Over 34 million returning sockeye salmon have made the 2010 run the largest since 1913. It follows on the disastrous Fraser River run of 2009, when barely a million fish returned to their spawning grounds.

At the start of this journey, their silvery flanks were covered with black speckles. Their backs were a bluish grey. By the time they reached the spawning beds, the males had developed distinctive humps and hooked jaws. Both males and females had turned bright red, with green heads. Their bodies were scraped and bruised from fighting their way over gravel and rocks.

Sockeye pair
The distinctive hooked nose and hump of the male and smooth body of the female

When we visited Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park, we found the river red with sockeye. The banks were covered with rotting corpses—food for birds, bears and other predators and nutrients for soil and water.

Sockeye fins
Sockeye fins catch the sun

As we walked along the banks we saw males using some of their last strength fighting off other males for the privilege of fertilizing eggs. Females were searching for good spots to dig out a hole and lay their eggs. As quickly as a male fertilized them, the female would move slightly upstream and dig enough gravel to float down over the eggs.

Female digging
Female sockeye digging a bed for her eggs

The day was sunny but cool enough to temper the smell of rotting fish. Though there were dozens of other visitors (compared to thousands on busier days), we had easy access to viewing areas.

Viewing bridge
Viewing bridge in Roderick Haig Provincial Park

So we had plenty of time to watch these intrepid fish. Seeing their abundance, watching their persistent struggle, I thought of the difference between my own careless treatment of the bones and skin and inedible parts of this noble fish and the honouring I’ve witnessed in First Nations communities. Careful attention to ritual, from catching and preparing the salmon to disposing of uneaten bits, assured the fish would remain plentiful.

In 2010 the salmon run is plentiful, but we still know only pieces of the puzzle of the sockeye’s lifecycle. Over thirty million salmon returned this year, in spite of fish farming, environmental degradation, and overfishing. I’d like to think that by 2014 we will have learned to honour the extraordinary gift of these fish so that our grandchildren can look forward to more runs like this one instead of last year’s dismal showing.

You can see some of the jockeying for position in this video clip from our recent visit to Adams River:

JCVdude captured some good underwater footage in the middle portion of this video:

5 thoughts on “Adams River Sockeye Salmon Run 2010

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Adams River Sockeye Salmon Run 2010 « Crossroads – Cathryn Wellner --

  2. j

    Hi Cathryn,
    I’ll use this with my class when we study salmon in January. There is a salmon run up near Bellingham then and bald eagles come to feast by the hundreds…It’s a great opportunity for children to witness the circle of life, when those that swim become a part of those that fly. Just like it used to be in the “old days” when I’d take my class to Glacier National Park, near Whitefish.

    Thanks for sharing the wonderful photos and video. Indeed, salmon are great teachers for us with their long distance strength, determination to swim against the current, and courage to leap up and over waterfalls! (They have been an inspiration to me on the challenging legal, political, medical mothering journey I’ve been swimming all these years! If the salmon can make it to the sweet home waters, we can, too!)

    Your old friend,

    1. Beautiful analogy, Judith. You have swum upstream to deliver your beautiful son to “the sweet home waters”.

      Salmon are so important to the land, waters, animals, and people of this ecosystem. This year’s record-breaking run is in spite of all we’ve done to disrupt their cycles. We can’t count on continued runs like this as long as we pollute the waters, build dams, farm fish, and all the other crazy things we two-leggeds do to the planet.

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