some sockeye

The word “some” sometimes means more than a little, as in Winston Churchill’s famous “some chicken, some neck” rejoinder to the comment that Britain would be pummeled into surrender within 3 weeks of an invasion during the early days of Word War II.

During the last week, we’ve seen a perfect illustration of this semantic, with the arrival of a flood of sockeye salmon pouring through Johnstone Strait on their way to the Fraser River, a feast for First Nations badly pressed by last year’s almost total failure of the predicted 12 million run, and a bonanza for commercial fishers lately accustomed to very slim pickings as they ply their trade.

This year’s Fraser sockeye return was predicted to be as good or better, and it seems the predictions this year are on target.  Enough sockeye showed up early in August to warrant a food fishery for First Nations that put smiles on the faces of people in Alert Bay and many other communities.  Peoples’ cupboards were so bare last year that doom scenarios were hard to avoid.   Memories of the collapse of the “infinite” cod resource off Canada’s east coast rang in the minds of everyone affected, so the year 2010 began with huge question marks around the future.

Imagine, then, the joy that accompanied the arrival of so many sockeye on August 16th that they were “finning” at the surface, a phenomenon indicative of huge numbers of fish below, and seldom seen in this species of salmon.  Sockeye usually swim far below the surface, making them difficult targets for sports fishers, but suddenly on this day, all the anglers were catching them.  Astounded by the spectacle of hordes of little fins rising to the surface of the glassy ocean, and “jumpers” galore, we were fish watching from the deck of our lab!  Little sporty boats were into it (watching) too, and out in Johnstone Strait, when the bell for the “opening” rang, seiners, trollers, and gill netters hauled in so many sockeye they gave some of them away when they arrived back at the dock in Alert Bay.  Amazing.

Inevitably, given the climate of these times, a question sneaks in.  The looming threat of temperature changes in the Fraser hovers in the background of this year’s celebration.  Just a few degrees rise could make things very difficult for spawning sockeye, so we must ask: Are we witnessing the resilience of Nature, or its last gasp?

With the return of the sockeye, we’ve also seen the return of summer as usual for the orcas.  The long journeys of July (see last post) now seem just a memory, as we watch a crowd of more than 50 orcas from half a dozen families parading up & down western Johnstone Strait, frolicking & foraging & rubbing in a way that is totally familiar.

Truly (it seems) summer is here at last… some summer!

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