Record year for chum returning to South Alouette River

Run in Maple Ridge more than five times last year’s 25,000

Chum salmon are back in strong numbers on the South Alouette River.

Chum salmon are back in strong numbers on the South Alouette River.

They’re back, this year, in force.

About 140,000 chum salmon have been rushing up and crowding the South Alouette River the past few weeks, bumping and pushing and fighting and nipping each other, looking for a place to lay their eggs in the upper reaches of the river, before they die of exhaustion.

The run is one of the biggest on record and more than five times last year’s run of 25,000.

“So big difference,” said Greta Borick-Cunningham, acting executive-director of the Alouette River Management Society.

It’s hard to explain, though, the difference in the run size this year compared to last. It could depend on the weather or the size of the smolt run from a few years ago.

Unlike sockeye, chum don’t have to get around the Alouette dam and into Alouette Lake in order to spawn.

“They’re not as fussy as other salmon are.”

Borick-Cunningham said the chum run is starting to fade while coho are just starting to return. The Allco hatchery at ARMS’s Rivers Heritage Centre raises coho for release back into the river in order to sustain the run, but the chum are entirely naturally self-sustaining.

Meanwhile, only about 45 sockeye salmon returned to the South Alouette  this year.

The river society is trying to rebuild the sockeye run and just applied to B.C. Hydro’s Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program for a $21,000 grant for a feasibility study. The aim is determine if it’s worthwhile building a fish way or fish ladder beside the dam, allowing sockeye and other fish to return to the lake, after being blocked by the dam for 86 years.

Ross Davies, with the Kanaka Education and Environmental Partnership Society, said there are good returns throughout the Lower Mainland. Kanaka Creek is seeing a strong return of coho and chum.

“So it’s game on in Kanaka Creek, for sure.”

The sudden downpours, rising creek levels and cooling water temperatures may have encouraged the fish to move upstream. “A lot of fish come roaring in, during those high-water events.”

But good conditions in the ocean, whatever they were, also led to more fish returning to the streams to spawn, Davies said.

“Whatever is going out there continues. We’re seeing good strong returns.”

He pointed out Still Creek in Burnaby had its first large return of salmon in 80 years, while chum came back in force in Stony Creek, in Coquitlam.

The Bell-Irving hatchery in Kanaka Creek Regional Park raises juvenile fish for release into Stoney Creek.