When you think the Chinook salmon with their beautiful deep red, blue, green and purple colors are all finished for the year in Swift Creek, keep an eye out for the even more brilliant red body and bright green face of the elusive Sockeye salmon.
Between three and 10 Sockeyes have been spotted next to the Golden Years Senior’s Centre in Swift Creek for at least a week. Sockeye, smaller than Chinook, don’t usually come this far.
Local salmon guru Bruce Wilkinson said he had never seen Sockeye in Swift Creek before.
“This is amazing!” he wrote in an email to the Goat. Wilkinson is spearheading a program to enhance the stream to improve spawning near the viewing area to ensure tourism and education about the salmon life cycle continue.
Lester Jantz, Acting Area Director of the Fraser Panel, Department of Fisheries and Oceans told the Goat that there is no regular program for assessing the stock of Sockeye in the Swift Creek and Tete Jaune area because they are seen so infrequently, but staff enumerating Chinook will occasionally see them.
“We do have some records from fisheries officers who in the past, in the mid ‘80s saw Sockeye in Swift Creek, and occasionally we will see them in the Tete Jaune area and some of the other creeks,” says Jantz.
“We don’t know if these are just strays, which salmon often do,” says Jantz. “For some reason, a few individuals will go into a system that you’ve never seen them in before.”
Or, Jantz says, it may be a very small population of Sockeye that regularly spawn in the area, and their population level has remained so low that they are not often seen.
Regarding how long they might stay, Jantz says that the residency period for salmon varies between species and years. Salmon will often hold in a lake or larger, deeper area of a river system until it is almost time to spawn, and then they will “zip” into the creeks, lay their eggs, and be finished within a few days. They will often do this to protect themselves from predation from bears, eagles, wolves and coyotes, because they are very vulnerable in the shallow waters they spawn in. He says there is not enough observation of the Sockeye in Swift Creek to guess how long they might stay around.
There is no concern of competition between the Sockeye and Chinook, because they have different life cycles, different diets, and different preferences for spawning sites. Jantz says that Chinook normally prefer larger, three to five inch cobble-type gravel. Sockeye, being smaller, prefer smaller gravel and sandy particles, because they need to be able to move the substrate around to dig their redd (nest).
People should not disturb the fish while they are in the creek, but Jantz says there is certainly no problem with watching them and taking pictures. Once the adult fish are gone, things like vehicles driving through the creeks can definately crush the eggs in the gravel, which can take months to hatch, but kids swimming and dogs running into the water would not be a concern.
The Goat sent these photos, taken on September 26, to Jantz, who said “They are definitely Sockeye and in good condition given how far they have travelled to get there.”
By: Korie Marshall