An angler makes himself comfortable while fishing at the junction of the Quinsam and Campbell rivers. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror

An angler makes himself comfortable while fishing at the junction of the Quinsam and Campbell rivers. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror

2020 was a good year if you were a Chinook Salmon

Campbell River’s Quinsam Hatchery reports highest Chinook return in 30 years

It seems like 2020 was a pretty good year for a very specific bunch of fish.

According to the Quinsam Hatchery’s Ed Walls, the amount of fish that returned to the Campbell River this year is the highest it’s been in around three decades.

“We’re still finalizing the numbers because there’s lots of extrapolation and calculation that needs to get done to actually finalize the numbers, but we’re thinking it’s around 10,000 Chinook that ended up returning to the Quinsam and Campbell system. Of that 10,000, about 1,700 look like they spawned in the Campbell River itself,” he said. “That’s looking like it’s probably the biggest return to the Campbell of actual spawning fish for close to 30 years.”

While, as he explained, the numbers aren’t finalized yet and they could include some fish from different river systems and fish of different ages, it is an encouraging sign to see this many fish come back to spawn. Walls and his team will be analyzing the fish that have returned to see where exactly they originated from, and to get specific information on their ages and how many are hatchery-bred fish and how many are wild.

Walls did not point to any specific reason for the higher return, explaining that it could be any number of things. Part of it could be that there was a dip in fishing activity because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is all sorts of factors that could come into play,” he said. “They could have slightly better ocean conditions, I can’t really comment on that. There may have been less fishing pressure on them both commercial, sports fisheries and that sort of thing.

“A lot of lodges up north were shut down because of COVID, so those fish might not have been intercepted. There’s a whole pile of factors, and it’s really a guessing game as to why we got relatively more.”

Other species have also had a good year this year. Over half a million pink salmon have returned, which is a similar number to previous years. Coho are up since last year as well, but last year’s low return could be a factor in the higher comparative numbers this year.

While the Chinook numbers are looking good this year, Walls said that the year is not over and that there is still a possibility for a large flood event similar to one in 2016 that wiped out the gravel beds and eggs in the river.

“We probably have passed the riskiest stage, the most common flooding we have is in November for sure. Then it goes a bit into December. We’re starting to get near to the end of December, so there’s less likelihood. The hydro lakes are not super super full yet, so that also gives us a buffer if we do get a big storm.

“The Campbell River is a hydro-controlled river, so if that reservoir fills up too much then they’re in a situation where they’re spilling, and that it what gives you your elevated flows,” he explained.

“We’ve had a very benign fall so far in terms of having one big heavy rain event, or like a super warm rain event on top of fresh snow. We’ve been lucky so far,” Walls added.

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