Sacred salmon- The Wild Files: It's our Nature

·3 min read

Salmon are the most popular of all anadromous fish, which means they are born in fresh water, migrate to an ocean like the Pacific and return to freshwater once again to reproduce. There are two different types of genera that salmon belong to. The first is the Salmo, which is more commonly known as the Atlantic salmon. The second is Oncorhynchus, more commonly known as Pacific Salmon which breaks into many different subspecies with some of its more popular being: Chinook, Kokanee, Coho, Chum, Masu, Pink and Sockeye. The smallest is the pink salmon, with a maximum length of 76 centimetres. Both the Chinook and Atlantic salmon are known to almost double that, with an average 150 centimetres in length.

The Chinook salmon is the most valuable and largest of all the Pacific salmon species, weighing up to 40 pounds. Chinook come in B.C. through many tributaries off the Pacific Ocean. Chinook salmon have seen many parts of the world, including areas of Asia like Japan, New Zealand and from Alaska to California. One part of the world that has not seen Chinook or any kind of salmon in more than 80 years is the Columbia River. When it did, it would see 16 per cent fall Chinook, 12 per cent spring and 30 per cent summer chinook, as well as 11 percent Coho and 23 percent Sockeye. The Columbia and its tributaries also saw Kokanee salmon, which are much smaller — growing a maximum range of 12 to 15 inches. There will be a Kokanee workshop next month in partnership with B.C. Wildlife Foundation, Shuswap Band and the Lake Windemere District Rod and Gun Club, on how to restore them to our watershed. The Bringing Home the Salmon festival which educates and finds solutions on how to bring the salmon home, was a held in May.

School of fish:

While many groups of fish are called schools, a group of salmon are called a bind. Salmon lay their eggs in freshwater streams. The higher the latitude, the better it suits them. These eggs hatch into sac fry, which quickly becomes parr. This stage can last from six months to three years before the parr become smolts, studies show only 10 per cent of eggs survive this stage. The chemistry changes that happen in the smolt body allows salmon to survive and thrive in salt water. Depending on the salmon species, salmon will become sexually mature in one to five years and will return to freshwater to spawn. Salmon are known to make incredible journeys, moving hundreds of kilometres upstream and against all odds and obstacles to reproduce.

Female salmon use their tail to create a low-pressure zone, lifting gravel and creating a shallow depression suitable for laying roe. These habitats of the fresh steam are crucial habitats for many salmon species, where many feed on terrestrial and aquatic insects, amphipods, and other crustaceans.

Fish tales:

A common myth about salmon is that the place they hatched is the same place they return to spawn. Salmon are considered sacred to Indigenous people and the Ktunaxa and Shuswap First Nations miss days when the Columbia ran radiant red with them. Indigenous people have used salmon for spiritual guidance, ceremonial purposes and nothing was wasted — whether it was meat was for food, skin and bones for clothes or toys. Salmon bladders were even turned into glue. The completion of the Chief Joseph Dam in 1955 was the first of many to follow blocking salmon from migrating back to the upper Columbia River. The Ktunaxa Nation has been working to achieve restoration of the anadromous salmon since 1956. The perseverance of the Ktunaxa and Shuswap people bring them home continues. In many First Nation cultures, salmon are a symbol of perseverance, self-sacrifice, regeneration, and prosperity.

Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer

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