Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How ya doing, chum?

Warmish temperatures during the day, cool ones at night, and my pumpkins are actually turning orange, which is a rarity in Sointula! With fall in full swing, and looking towards winter, I thought I would make my first blog posting since returning from maternity leave about something that also points to this time of year on the coast….the chum salmon run.

Some of you may be rolling your eyes. Why talk about the dog salmon (named because of their large teeth at spawning time), when there are cataclysmic events happening on the Fraser with the sockeye this year? Even the Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) website says our poor chum is “the least sought-after of the Pacific salmon species”. Well, I have to ask, least sought after by whom? By the commercial and recreation fishing sectors? By the consumer?

Chum salmon are the last of the species of Pacific salmon to return to our rivers to spawn. In the ocean, they can often be confused with sockeye because of their silver bright colour, but as they approach their natal streams, they differentiate themselves by their distinctive vertical streaks. They are historically extremely abundant and spawn in more than 880 streams and rivers along the BC coast. In my neck of the woods, chum are just now returning to the Nimpkish, Kokish, Cluxewe and Quatse Rivers.

Last month, the Globe and Mail reported that bears on the Central Coast are starving because of the lack of chum salmon. Last year this was happening in Knight Inlet because of the lack of pink salmon. Poor cousin or not, every species of salmon has a place in the ecological web on this coast. And every species of salmon is under threat, whether by infestation of sea lice, warming ocean temperatures, or just plain mismanagement.

Stock outlooks posted by DFO for the 2009 chum runs for Johnstone Strait and Mainland inlets are either low or near target. What floors me is that the difference between the definitions of what is “low” and what is “near target” is substantial. An area that is getting a near target assessment is defined as “stock is (or is forecast to be) within 25% of target and stable or increasing”. An area that is getting a low assessment is defined as “stock is (or is forecast to be) well below target or below target and declining”. It’s like the point at which the pendulum will swing from one side to the other. Is it increasing or decreasing? Are we going to focus less on “managing” a stock if its near target?

And what are the consequences if we are mistaken?

* In researching this blog posting, I looked up the predicted returns on chum this year. All well and good until I want to see it in a bit more detail by stream. I have to admit I am mystified at how anyone can even find this information, let alone interpret it.


  1. Time to check the ditch in Rough Bay (Malcolm Island) and see if the Chum are migrating up. Has anyone seen them this year?

  2. I haven't been out there. Sounds like a good activity to do with the kids. I'll post a picture of our very local chum salmon "stream" next week with details.