Call it an early Christmas present from Mother Nature and the staff at the Quinsam Hatchery.
Chinook returns to the Campbell River in 2020 are estimated to be the highest they’ve been since 1990 at around 1,700 spawning adults. Coho returns were more than double last year’s numbers, with 7,500 adults returning to the Campbell/Quinsam system compared to 3,500 last year. Overall about 10,000 Chinook returned to the Campbell/Quinsam system.
Over 500,000 pinks returned compared to 550,000 last year, and while the numbers are down a bit, the remarkable thing is that this year’s return came from the progeny of the 2018 run, which was only 100,000.
By a rough estimate, it is thought about 10,000 chums returned to the Campbell.
The other remarkable part of the story is that the hatchery staff had to operate under extremely challenging circumstances because of COVID-19. There were no contingency plans for operating under such crazy times. When the pandemic hit, the hatchery staff had in their charge literally millions of young salmon. They managed and changed things on the fly. Because of their actions, the community can look forward to the returns of the future.
The spawning of 1,700 Chinook in the Campbell River is intriguing. It is more than double the average over the past six years, and was the highest number of spawners in 30 years.
Over the years, lack of spawning gravel, toxic leaching from the upstream mine and the hydroelectric operations on the river have stressed the Campbell River Chinook stock to the point of extinction, just as they have extirpated its summer and winter steelhead, and its cutthroat trout.
Recent efforts to restore those wild stocks have resulted in an average of 700 naturally spawning Chinooks over the past six years. So, the 1,700 that spawned in the Campbell this year is exciting. However, it comes with a caveat. “I caution that while this is encouraging, there was probably a relatively high percentage of hatchery fish that made up this number so it is not indicative of wild Campbell River Chinook doing well; 2016 was a banner flood year so I suspect that the wild component of the four-year-olds in this return is low,” said hatchery manager Ed Walls.
That being said, the number of Chinook actually spawning in the Campbell will be good news for the local groups that have spearheaded spawning gravel placements in the river over the years. Organizations like the Campbell River Salmon Foundation that just this spring spearheaded a new spawning area in the lower end of what is called the Main Island Pool.