Sockeye salmon have come up into Williams Lake, making their way upstream to try and spawn, for the first time in many years.
Guy Scharf, a community advisor with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada Salmonid Enhancement Program, said while sockeye making it up into Williams Lake is not unheard of, it is unusual.
These returns usually happen on dominant years for the Horsefly or Quesnel systems and when he lived and worked in Williams Lake a couple of decades ago, he had seen sockeye in the lake himself. Scharf said the sockeye are most likely from the Quesnel stock and could in theory even spawn in the San Jose River and attempt to rear in Williams Lake.
He said sockeye were documented even up as far as Knife Creek in 1956 and Williams Creek used to be much deeper and narrower prior to human activities in the Williams Lake River Valley.
Increasing water temperatures, sedimentation and other challenges impacting their habitat could mean low success for spawning salmon, but Scharf said it is a good sign to see them back in the system because returning salmon bring important marine nutrients to the inland waterways and ecosystems.
Seeing the fish back in the system helps people see the importance of some of waterways often dismissed or under appreciated for their roles in our watersheds, he added.
Scientists have been able to link the return of salmon to the ecology of the forests, where trees have taken up the marine nitrogen from the decaying salmon washed up or dragged onto land by feeding animals.
Sockeye salmon are a listed endangered species in many watersheds, including Quesnel stock. In early 1985, the Horsefly River sockeye run had 11 million sockeye.
The species require a lake or large tributary in their life cycle, as the juvenile salmon spend two to three years there before migrating to the ocean. They then head downstream to the ocean, travelling up to 1,600 km to the ocean where they spend one to four years before returning to their home waters to spawn.