Scientists have counted a remarkable rebound of the kokanee salmon in the Kathleen Lake watershed of Kluane National Park and Reserve.
A drastic reduction in the number of fish returning to the spawning beds occurred after 2000, resulting in a closure of the sport fishery in 2004.
A small team of Parks Canada scientists have been monitoring this population since 1976.
“So every August we go out and historically it’s been around 3,000 fish returning to spawn,” ecologist Carmen Wong explained.
Then in 2001, there was a large crash down to 700.
“When I started in 2008, I counted 20,” Wong said.
In 2015, they counted around 5,000, following a more modest rise to 1,000 in 2014.
“So if you think about 20 back up to 5,000, that’s incredible.”
But hold the applause.
“We are not declaring this population recovered by any means, because so far we’ve just had two years of positive numbers. We would need several years more to figure out whether they are out of the red,” Wong said.
Kokanee are almost genetically identical to sockeye salmon, except they spend their entire lives in freshwater. In the case of Kathleen Lake’s salmon, it’s believed that they once migrated from the Alsek River to the Gulf of Alaska, but became land-locked when the Lowell Glacier surged and blocked this route.
Sockeye, like Kathleen Lake’s kokanee, are known to experience big swings in population size.
Scientists think this may be linked to climate, as swings in temperature cause stress to the salmon.
Parks Canada scientists are looking at water temperature, water levels and any other indicators that may help solve the mystery.
“It will be a long time before we can actually figure out – at least five years – until we start to get answers,” Wong said.
Parks Canada is asking for everyone’s cooperation to help the population recover. The possession ban is still in place, even for catch and release, as this population is extremely delicate.
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