There’s something fishy going on in the Little Campbell River – and those who watch over the salmon that spawn in it couldn’t be happier.
“Very close to a record,” Bob Donnelly, president of the Semiahmoo Fish & Game Club and Little Campbell Hatchery, said of this season’s salmon return.
Volunteers have tracked the salmon runs at the 1284 184 St. hatchery since 1983, this year counting more than 5,500 returning to spawn.
The total included 4,702 coho, 574 chinook, 252 chum and 22 pink. It did not include those that spawned in the river downstream of the hatchery, or in tributaries such as Fergus Creek.
In 30 years of logging the salmon, only 2001’s total exceeded the numbers seen this season.
“That year, there was 100 more salmon that come up than what we had this year,” Donnelly said.
“Nothing else in any other of the years comes close. There was one weekend where we had almost 2,000 fish come up. They were just stacking up by the gate.”
Donnelly couldn’t explain the high return, but was pleased to see that 1,000 of the returning coho were confirmed as among 100,000 that were hatchery-raised and released two or three years ago.
“The fellows put a lot of effort into raising those hatchery fish,” he said, citing efforts including collection of the eggs and sperm, and the clipping of back fins to ensure the fish are identifiable on return.
He acknowledged the death rate is high, but said to see 1,000 come back is “very good” nonetheless.
“There’s significantly more fish raised in the river naturally, and they probably suffer the same death rate,” he said.
With the salmon run finished, hatchery volunteers have switched their focus to steelhead trout, which spend two years at sea before returning to spawn. About 10,000 of the trout are raised in the hatchery every year. Four were spotted in early January.
Donnelly said anyone wanting to see the spawning in action is welcome to visit the grounds during daylight hours. The trout will continue to be visible from the club’s river-side nature trail through March.