Last Fall’s Chum Returns On Cortes & Quadra

Last fall’s chum runs were poor throughout British Columbia. Wilf Luedke, the chief biologist for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, described reports from the Sooke River, on Vancouver Island, as “the worst yet.” On the Fraser River, the Alouette River Management Society counted 500 instead of the 60,000 they expected. The chum returns on Cortes & Quadra Cortes were dismal. 

2019 Chum Returns on Cortes & Quadra

“Chum are the only salmon species that we get any numbers of on Cortes (with a few Coho), and we had perhaps 50 total return. Three years ago it was 1300+, and historically a lot more than that. There were not even enough spawners around this year for us to access any Chum eggs for the Klahoose hatchery or the Streamkeepers incubation boxes,” says Cec Robinson, one of Cortes Island’s better known streamkeepers. 

2019 is the second year that only three chum were counted on Quadra Island’s Drew creek. A Quadra Island streamkeeper emailed a chart showing the counts on Drew Creek back to 1984. The column for sockeye is empty, there is a solitary entry for pinks (1989) and the last known coho sightings were in 2016. Last year was the sixth year that the chum count was a single digit.

The Reason Why

Luedke cited a number of reasons for the declining numbers : climate change, rainfall levels, salmon stream degradation, predation by seals.

“The Department of Fisheries and Oceans does not know why,” says Robinson. 

Cec Robinson checking a live trap in Hanson’s creek (2016) – Roy L Hales photo

Hoping It Was A One-Time Off Year

He added, “We are just hoping that this was a one-time off year, and that next year will make up for it. And it might, but if the run fails again next year too, well, that might be a bigger story!”

The record low for Drew Creek was in 2 chum in 2010, but two years later the count bounced up to 120. However that was the only time, since 2006, that more than a hundred chum are known to have returned to Drew creek.

Top photo: Cec Robinson showing me around Hansen’s Creek, Cortes Island, in 2016.

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