Sockeye Salmon (Sakinaw population)

Oncorhynchus nerka

SARA Status
No Status
NS
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

SARA Status

  • No Status NS
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX
COSEWIC Status
Not at Risk
NR
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

COSEWIC Status

  • Not at Risk NR
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX

At a glance

An anadromous fish—that is a fish that spends part of its life in saltwater and part in freshwater—the Sakinaw Lake sockeye salmon population has declined by approximately 98 percent in the past 12 years. The reasons for this significant population decline are thought to include fishing, changes in spawning habitat and poor marine survival; habitat alterations may also have played a role. All attempts to transplant Sakinaw Lake sockeye salmon to other lakes have failed, while genetic analyses proves that Sakinaw Lake salmon are unique.

About the Sakinaw Lake sockeye salmon

With its unique genetic and biological characteristics, the Sakinaw Lake sockeye salmon is distinguished from other sockeye populations by its fairly large smolt size, relatively small adult size, and low rate of fertility. The salmon also enter rivers earlier than other salmon populations and remain in the lake for a lengthy period of time prior to spawning. Sakinaw Lake sockeye mature and spawn at approximately four years of age. Most juveniles remain in the lake for a year before migrating to sea. Sockeye salmon are plankton feeders, filtering tiny organisms from the water with their closely spaced gill rakers.

How to recognize a Sakinaw Lake sockeye salmon

Adult sockeye salmon living in saltwater usually have bluish backs and silver sides. When sockeye spawn, their bodies typically turn bright-red and their heads become green. However, it is not possible to identify a Sakinaw Lake sockeye salmon by appearance alone. Genetic testing must be used to differentiate Sakinaw Lake sockeye from other sockeye salmon.

Where the Sakinaw Lake sockeye salmon lives

Sakinaw Lake sockeye salmon live and spawn in Sakinaw Lake and its watershed, located northwest of Vancouver on the Sechelt Penninsula. The fish migrate to the ocean through Johnstone Strait in mid-June to late July.

Why it’s at risk

The Sakinaw Lake sockeye salmon is at risk from being accidentally caught in mixed-stock sockeye salmon fisheries, from variable marine survival, as well as from the various negative impacts to their lake habitat, including low water flows and levels (water levels are sometimes too low for the salmon to enter the lake). Logging and residential development are impacting their habitat. The salmon is also at risk from other activities such as poaching.

What’s being done

The Sakinaw Lake sockeye salmon is designated as endangered by COSEWIC. In January 2005, a final decision was made by the Government of Canada to not list Sakinaw Lake sockeye salmon under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), due to the significant socio-economic impacts on sockeye fishers and coastal communities.

Beginning in 2002, Fisheries and Oceans Canada put in place conservation measures to protect late run sockeye (including Sakinaw Lake sockeye). Additional measures have been established to further protect these populations.

Captive Broodstock Program

Broodstock are reared for the Sakinaw Lake stock at enhancement facilities with secure water supplies and experienced staff. This project began in 2000 and is intended to operate through to 2007. The objective is to raise 500 mature individuals in captivity each year. The surplus eggs are released as fry in their first fall or as smolts in their second spring. Smolts migrate to sea from late March to early June. The intent is to increase overall egg to adult survival to provide additional fry or smolts for release and to provide a form of "insurance" against any natural catastrophe (such as high pre-spawning mortality).

Sakinaw Lake Fishway and Water Storage Potential Improvements

Installation of an improved fishway, using the existing structure and new metal work, will take place at the outlet of Sakinaw Lake. The current structure at the outlet tends to make adult passage more difficult at low flows. The new design will use an alternating shallow slot that allows fish to swim up, rather than jump over, a weir at low flows. An objective of the work is to reduce injuries to adults and possibly allow earlier migration into the lake, thereby reducing the time the adults hold in saltwater. Already installed in the fishway is a fishtrap that permits counting of the smolts as they leave the lake and head to sea.

Spawning Habitat Assessment and Restoration

A spawning assessment and restoration study helps to provide a better understanding of the potential spawning capacity of the lake and spawning areas. Sakinaw Lake has five identified spawning beaches; however, due to past industrial activities, debris has been deposited on three of these important spawning areas. This research will help assess the long-term effectiveness of beach restoration projects in improving spawning habitat quantity and quality. The aim of these restoration projects is to increase the overall spawning area available and to provide an overall assessment of critical habitat on the survival of the species.

Assessment of Adult Marine Survival and Migration Route

A cooperative acoustic tagging project, led by the Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking Project is intended to provide a variety of information on the early marine migration and distribution of sockeye juveniles. DFO’s portion of the project involves purchasing a portion of the tags. Smolts are tagged using the POST technology and providing the smolts for the surgical implantation of the tags. The tags are designed and programmed to remain active for the summer in which they are tagged and released, in order to indicate the juvenile (seaward) migration route. The tags then switch off to preserve battery life, until the expected season and year of adult return. Each fish that survives natural hazards is expected to yield data on the timing and route of both its seaward and return migration.

Smolt Assessment

Ongoing stock assessment work on the status of Sakinaw Lake sockeye smolts and adults continues. These assessments are being carried out to gain an improved understanding of pre-spawning mortality, parasites, predators and overall smolt production.

Adult Enumeration, Predator Monitoring and Acoustic Tagging

The adult enumeration project involves counting all sockeye entering Sakinaw Lake from the ocean and obtaining sex composition and size distribution information. To enter the lake, they must transit a flow control weir near tidal water. During this time a 24-hour monitoring presence will be maintained to monitor and count returning adults and to deter predators at the weir.

What can you do?

The Sakinaw Lake sockeye salmon will get the protection it needs only if all Canadians work together to reduce threats. Find out more about sockeye salmon and be aware of human-induced threats. Do your best to reduce these threats wherever possible to better protect the salmon’s critical habitat. Get involved with the Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk (HSP) or another conservation organization.

Species at Risk (SARA) Public Registry Profile.

Sockeye Salmon (Sakinaw population)

Sakinaw Lake sockeye salmon

Sakinaw Lake sockeye salmon

Scientific name: Oncorhynchus nerka
Taxonomy: Fishes (freshwater)
SARA Status: No Status
COSEWIC Status:Endangered
Region: British Columbia Pacific Ocean

  • Sakinaw Lake sockeye salmon

    Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO)

  • Sakinaw Lake sockeye salmon

    Jeremy Sarrow, © California Academy of Sciences

  • Sakinaw Lake sockeye salmon

    male and female sockeye salmon, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

  • Sakinaw Lake sockeye salmon

    spawning sockeye swimming with a trout, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Related Information

Sakinaw Lake—or Sauchenauch Lake—is the largest lake on the Sechelt peninsula, and lies within the Sechelt Indian Band’s traditional territory. Historically, the lake and its surrounding watershed provided the Sechelt people with abundant numbers of sockeye and coho salmon.