Waves of spawning Chinook salmon reverse trend on Cowichan River


WATCH: The rains that have started falling on Vancouver Island are coming just in time for waves of salmon returning to spawn. A massive migration home is now underway with the added rush of water and on the Cowichan River fish are returning in numbers not seen in decades.

The sight of lined up Chinook salmon bursting from the water is a triumph for those who’ve been closely watching the Cowichan River.

“I’ve seen way more fish,” said Cowichan Tribes member Colleen Joseph.

“Thank goodness there is.”

Once they reach their spawning grounds up the river, the cycle that they started out on four years ago will be complete.

“Yeah it’s great to see,” said Stewart Pearce, a stock assessment technician with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

“I mean the Chinook run here on the Cowichan in particular was in really terrible shape about 10 years ago, 2008, 2009 and things have bounced back.”

For the second year in a row, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) Chinook counts on the Cowichan are being seen in territory not seen in decades.

In 2009, there was an estimated 900 adult Chinook that returned, DFO estimates that this year up 12,000 will pass their fish counting fence.

“With this rain, they’ll be moving here this weekend in big numbers,” said Pearce.

All this is happening despite drought and record low water levels for several summers now.

Officials don’t know what’s behind the huge increase in salmon but say the run has surely been saved by reprieves of rain that came this week and those downpours in early September.

“So much better than it was,” said Pearce.

Unfortunately, the booming number of returning salmon isn’t the only mystery. They are also coming in smaller than they ever have before.

“Yeah its something unfortunately we don’t have the greatest handle on,” said Pearce.

“And we’d like to figure out but it’s just nice to see that the fish are bouncing back,” he said.

Colleen Joseph hopes one day to see the Cowichan stocks returned to what she remembers from her childhood.

“There was so much fish it was like you could walk across the river on those fish,” said Joseph.

“Like I was pretty young then, but it was just amazing,” said Joseph.

As the Cowichan River makes a comeback, to the relief of the many who are watching.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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