Since the onset of watershed restoration, the increase in the number of salmon returning to spawn is dramatic. In 1995, around the time when the Central Westcoast Forest Society began its restoration program, 562 coho salmon were counted spawning in Kootowis Creek on the Kennedy Flats between Ucluelet and Tofino. In 2001, the number of coho jumped to 6,789.
Along with coho, chum and chinook are also returning to the Kennedy Flats; often in areas where no salmon have been seen for up to 20 years or more.
Female spawners deposit and bury their eggs in a depression in the gravel called a redd. Male spawners fertilize the eggs with milt. Their journey over, adult salmon then die.
As the salmon eggs lie in the gravel, the embryo develops and hatches as an alevin. The alevin carries a yolk sac which will provide food for two to three months. Once the nutrients in the sac are absorbed, the free-swimming fry must move up into the water and face a dangerous world.
The fry may live in fresh water for a year or more, or may go downstream to the sea at once - it varies by species. Fry ready to enter salt water are called smolts.
From each thousand eggs that were laid, only a few adult salmon survive and return to their home streams to spawn and die and continue the cycle.
The information on the salmon life cycle was adapted from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada website with permission - and thanks.
Chum salmon are widely dispersed along the Pacific coast, inhabiting more than 875 rivers and streams in British Columbia alone.
They are the latest of the five salmon species to enter the southern streams and rivers to spawn, usually in late autumn and in some instances in late winter. In northern rivers, however, they arrive on the spawning beds as early as July.
Known as good swimmers, but not good jumpers, chum usually spawn close to tidal waters. In some cases they migrate up larger rivers, but if passage is blocked by wood debris they are generally unable to jump and get past the jam. For this reason, watershed restoration (removal of wood debris jams) is of particular benefit to chum.
Those that have spawned in shorter coastal streams move directly to the sea, sometimes requiring only a day or two before they journey downstream. In the larger river systems, however, the young fry may stay in fresh water for several months while making their way to the ocean.
In salt water chum salmon are metallic blue and silver, with occasional black speckling on the back. While some have been known to weigh 15 kilograms, chum salmon average 3.5 to 4.5 kilograms, and can measure more than one metre at maturity.
As they near fresh water on the return to their home streams, their flesh quality and visual appeal deteriorate rapidly. Mature fish show reddish or dark bars across the sides and some have blotches of gray or back as well. The males also develop a sharply hooked nose and large, dog-like teeth (hence the common name "dog salmon") which are used to display and protect their territory during spawning.
When female chum build their redd or nest, they can displace as much as one cubic metre of gravel testing out several potential nesting sites; a process that helps flush out sediment build-up in streams.
The chinook, a favorite of sport fisherman, is the largest of British Columbia's five salmon species. While in salt water, the chinook has a dark back, with a greenish blue sheen. As it approaches fresh water to spawn, its color darkens and it develops a reddish hue around the fins and belly. The teeth of adult spawning males become enlarged and the snout develops into a hook.
Chinook are frequently dubbed "spring" or "king" salmon, because they return to some rivers earlier than the other four species of Pacific Salmon. There may also be a summer run in June and July and another in August and September.
While the majority of chinook salmon head for sea a few months after they emerge from the gravel, some remain in their home stream for one or two years. Chinook returning to spawn vary greatly in age - from two to eight years.
Those spawning after three or four summers of feeding at sea, weigh from 6.75 to 25 kilograms. Smaller two or three-year-old male fish returning to spawn are called jacks.
Coho are swift, active fish found in most BC coastal streams. When mature in the late fall, they can weigh up to 14 kilograms, although the average weight is between 2.7 and 5.4 kilograms.
Juvenile coho are highly adaptable and can have varied life histories. Most stay from one to two years in coastal streams before emigrating seaward as smolts. But other fry are equally at home in lakes or in coastal estuaries.
During early stage of growth, coho have distinct parr markings (dark, vertical bars along each side), greenish brown backs, a white leading edge on the anal fin, and an orange tint on all but the dorsal fin. As they develop into smolts, their parr marks gradually fade and their backs become green with dark spots. While a number, known as jacks, return to spawn after less than one year at sea, the majority spend two growing seasons in salt water before returning to their home stream to spawn.
As adults, coho have silvery sides and a metallic blue back with irregular black spots. Spawning males in fresh water may exhibit bright red on their sides, bright green on their back and head, with darker coloration on the belly. Coho also develop a marked hooked jaw with sharp teeth. Females change color and develop hooked snouts, but the alteration is less spectacular.
Smallest but most abundant of the west coast salmon, pink salmon are known as "humpbacks" or "humpies" due to the extremely humped back the males develop as they return to spawn. The females do not exhibit this same change during spawning.
Pinks migrate to their home stream from July to October, and while some go a considerable distance upstream, the majority spawn in waters close to the sea. During this time both sexes change from the blue and silver colors of the ocean to pale gray on the back with a white to yellowish belly.
When the young 2.5-centimetre fry emerge from the gravel beds the following spring, they go directly downstream to the ocean. During their first summer in salt water, they stick close to shore, moving offshore in September. Rich ocean feeding in subsequent months induces remarkably rapid growth, bringing their average weight to 2.25 kilograms at maturity with some reaching a weight of 4.5 kilograms and a length of 76 centimetres. In spite of their short (two-year) life span and small size, their migrations are extensive, covering thousands of kilometres from their home streams.
Best known of the Pacific Salmon, sockeye are the most sought after for their superior flesh, color, and quality. Their rich oil content and red color are factors that make them a favorite with the Canadian and international public.
Sockeye were the first salmon to be canned in quantity and are still the mainstay of the canning industry.
Most sockeye spawn in rivers that feed into lakes, or in the outlets and spring-fed beaches of lakes, sometimes as far as 1,600 kilometres from the sea. Sockeye run from June to November. After spawning the young emerge from the gravel and spend up to three years in lakes generally downstream from their spawning area.
Migrating juveniles (called smolts) travel down to the ocean during May and June. When they reach the sea, they move rapidly outward or along the shore, feeding voraciously as they go. They develop into attractive fish with silvery bodies and blue-green backs, faintly-speckled with black.
Sockeye range far out into the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Alaska, thousands of nautical miles from their home streams. Their size varies with age: a four-year-old sockeye averages 3.0 kilograms, while older fish will run to 5.5 kilograms.
After a number of years at sea, sockeye return to their home streams to spawn. In the majority of southern BC rivers and streams, sockeye return as four-year-olds, but in northern rivers of the province, five-year-olds are about as common.
As sockeye approach their home streams, they turn varying shades of red - first a dull, brownish red and as they progress upstream, a brilliant scarlet with pale green heads. The males develop large teeth and hooked jaws.
Steelhead are found from California to Alaska, including the entire BC coastline. They are considered an ocean-going rainbow trout. Unlike Pacific Salmon, which die after their first and only spawning, steelhead may return to the ocean, later returning to a stream to spawn for a second time.
Young steelhead will live in fresh water for one to three years before travelling to the ocean. Normally, two or more summers are spent in the Pacific Ocean before the fish seek their spawning stream at the age of four or five years. Steelhead spawn in late winter or spring, but can enter the stream as early as May the following year.
Steelhead are prized as game fish by sport fishermen because of their strong fighting ability. Mature steelhead usually weigh 2.2 to 5.4 kilograms, but sometimes reach 16 kilograms.
Steelhead are metallic blue on the back, silvery on the sides, with small black spots on the upper body. They have a short head, wide tail base, and a square tail with uniform spots. Spawning males have a pink or red band on the side and an extended snout. Spawning females are more subdued in color.
The information on the different salmon species was adapted from the Fisheries and Oceans Canada website with permission - and thanks. Fisheries & Oceans Canada