The Longest Journey

Chris W“You only get one propeller,” Ian McAllister shouts half-jokingly as we head off from his dock towards Roscoe Inlet.  We are all excited to finally be starting Raincoast’s juvenile salmon migration project.  As we cruise the boat near the shore in search of salmon fry that have recently left their spawning streams for the open ocean, Heiltsuk co-worker Jordan Wilson keeps a sharp lookout for propeller-hungry rocks while Chris Wilson helps me scan the water for signs of salmon.  We are the salmon migration mapping team.

We are looking for the characteristic ‘dimpling’ on the water surface produced by the migrating juvenile salmon as they mill about, feeding and growing. This is a critical period in the life cycle of salmon, as up to 85 per cent of salmon die during this vulnerable time.   Most fall victim to a range of hungry predators, from birds to whales.

Our research is focused on identifying what factors influence successful movement and growth of migrating juvenile salmon at this pivotal stage in their lives. Our findings will help promote better ways of managing salmon in the wild, as well as augment ongoing research on the effects of salmon farming on migrating juvenile salmon.

When I am not out on the water chasing after salmon, I occupy myself at the Raincoast field office with the simple yet satisfying tasks of chopping wood, digging holes for water tanks, and repairing boats for the next field season.  My partner and I both have jobs in Bella Bella and so we will be here to see seasons changing, the emergence of young bears, wolves, salmon, and baby river otters (just conceived yesterday before my very eyes in front of my float house), and to explore the vast rainforest valleys I occasionally catch teasing glimpses of as we whiz by on our way to our research sites.

Back out on the water, with the propeller still intact, we cast our seine net into the water and bring up a shiny, squirming collection of juveniles. We identify the species, mostly pink and chum, then dip the net back into the water to let the fish resume their journey.  In silence, lost in thought, the three of us watch the countless little smolts head out towards the open ocean.

One of these tiny little fish may cover 15,000 kilometers over the next four years with less than one percent chance of returning to spawn.

Only the strongest, the fastest and the luckiest will return to this inlet.

We wish them well.

Chris Williamson
Salmon Migration Mapper

From Roscoe Inlet on the central coast of BC
May 2005

Investigate. Inform. Inspire.

Publications | Scientific Papers | Reports & Books

Find us & follow

You can help Save the Great Bears: find out how