The head, body and tail of a coho salmon smolt are about to be thrust from the incubating waters of the Fraser River into the wide, wild world of the Pacific Ocean. At the mouth of the Fraser, the largest river in British Columbia, where the current changes from a slow, steady riparian flow to the swift quaking waves of open ocean, I watch the smolt (a young salmon migrating from freshwater to saltwater) prepare for its big saltwater entry. Coho salmon are an important food source for Steller sea lions and a cultural icon of Canada’s West Coast. What apples are to pie, salmon are to B.C.
With a lateral undulation here and a pectoral wiggle there, she made it and has moved little since the saltwater rush. She’s probably tired from her noble battle down the river. She’s probably been living for a year after hatching from the gravel, only recently migrating to the mouth of the mighty Fraser. If this smolt is a member of the interior Fraser River coho salmon population (Oncorhynchus kisutch Walbaum) she is a B.C. at-risk species. Stressful marine conditions as a result of climate change, overfishing and habitat perturbations have contributed to the decline in the interior Fraser River salmon population.
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