Ode to the Harrison Sockeye

With the Cohen Commission set to get underway today, the Fraser River sockeye are in the spotlight. But what about the other sockeye? At least one member of the family is doing well, and that’s the Harrison sockeye. So how can this less-famous cousin of the missing Fraser sockeye be thriving when the star is under investigation for its disappearing act? In the second installation of The Tyee’s salmon series, author Jude Isabella investigates.

It comes down to many of the same reasons why the pink salmon are thriving: migration patterns and better access to food, and that stand-by reason, proximity to fish farms. But, there’s one small problem: the Harrison sockeye leave the rivers as 50 millimeter fry – much too small to put tracking devices on. So, while scientists can speculate about how and why the Harrison sockeye are thriving, they haven’t done enough research to say conclusively what this population’s secret is.

First of all, Harrison sockeye go straight to the ocean as fry – unlike other sockeye, which spend time in a lake before migrating. When they migrate, they go up the west side of Vancouver Island rather than the East side. And here’s where things get complicated: there are fewer fish farms on the west side and they are further from migration routes. That doesn’t mean that it’s only the fish farms that are killing the salmon. As Scott Hinch points out,

“It’s just speculation and that’s only one of the issues,” Hinch says, emphasizing the word ‘one.’ “But it’s intractable from the issue that [Harrison] are experiencing completely different growing conditions, completely. It’s probably an apples and oranges comparison, so you can’t really separate the two. It’s not just where they go, it’s when they go.” […read full article]

Scientists are still studying the Harrison sockeye to find out why it is better able to adapt than the rest of the Fraser family. So far, studies of adult Harrison sockeye are not yielding any extraordinary results, but scientists are hopeful that DNA analysis may help. Hopefully, whatever the key is to the Harrison sockeye’s survival can help the Cohen Commission to figure out what is going so wrong with the rest of the Fraser sockeye.

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