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Upper Pitt River salmon info

Pitt River Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka)

The Pitt River summer run sockeye stock is one of the largest sockeye found anywhere, with adults averaging -3.5kg (some individuals have been recorded in excess of 7.0kg). This is largely due to this stock's propensity to spend an extra year feeding in the ocean (added growth) and return as five year old fish rather than four as most other sockeye stocks. Both their large size and silver-bright condition upon return is valued, so they have been actively targeted by commercial and aboriginal fishers for well over a century.


The earliest recorded sockeye intervention in the upper Pitt area occurred in 1898 when 1.85 million fry were transported in from Morris Creek. Between 1904 and 1906 eggs and fry were brought into Pitt from Morris Creek, Granite Creek, and Pemberton, while eggs taken in the area were subsequently distributed to Vancouver Island, Queen's Park Hatchery in New Westminster, Fraser River Hatchery, and Harrison Lake.

In 1915, in an attempt to rebuild sockeye stocks on the Fraser River following the Hell's Gate slide, the federal Dominion Hatchery program was initiated. Funded with 6 million dollars, in excess of 20 sockeye hatcheries were constructed around the province, including one at the now defunct town of Alvin in the upper Pitt River watershed which commenced operations in1917. During it's lifetime it outplanted green and eyed eggs and released both fed and unfed fry. It was also involved in numerous transplants of eggs and fry to and from other areas in the province including the Birkenhead, Lilloet, Harrison, Chilliwack, and Shushwap river systems.

The signing of the first Canada/US salmon treaty in 1937 saw the demise of this program and as per the treaty all sockeye enhancement was now undertaken by the International Pacific Salmon Fisheries Commission (IPSFC).

By 1960, many upper Fraser River stocks of sockeye had grown rapidly because of enhancement and with increasing "incidental" catches of smaller numbered, non-enhanced stocks such as Pitt, a stabilization program was initiated. This included the construction of a "temporary" experimental facility on Corbold Creek , a tributary of the upper Pitt River. Eggs taken were held to eyed stage in a California trough and basket type incubation room before being planted into upwelling gravel beds. Over the next 23 years 75,000,000 unfed fry were released producing an estimated 800,000 adults. Late 1985 saw the signing of the most recent Canada/US treaty and the IPSFC facilities were absorbed by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans which continues to operate the project today.

Current Hatchery Operations

During September up to 8 million eggs are taken from spawning adults in Corbold Creek. Mature sockeye are captured by hand using seine nets. Gametes (eggs and sperm) are transported back to the hatchery for fertilization and are then placed in incubation boxes. The eggs are left undisturbed until the "eyed stage" is reached, then removed, "shocked", and run through a mechanical sorting machine which discards the dead, before final loading on plastic media (replaces gravel) in the incubation boxes where they will hatch and remain under the media surface until spring. At emergence the fry are "ponded" into troughs or tubs or nets for rearing (feeding/growing). When the desired size is reached a portion are usually marked by fin clipping and CWT tagging (experimental otolith banding with Strontium is also being tested) for future identification and survival estimation and then released at various locations throughout the watershed including Corbold, Fish Hatchery, Olsen, Slough, and Red Slough creeks, as well as Pitt Lake.

Sockeye salmon fry usually spend an additional year in a fresh water lake environment feeding on zoo-plankton (unlike chinook and coho fry which normally reside in streams feeding on insects and smaller fish) before migrating to the ocean for two to three years. It is during the early part of this lake rearing, while the sockeye fry are still quite small, that many die from starvation or predation. Rearing of the fry through this early period helps them quickly attain the size needed to better survive the conditions in the wild. Actual hatchery "rearing" at the Corbold Creek site began in 1986 with addition of net pens in Pitt Lake in 1989. Egg to fry survivals average -90% in the hatchery (-10% in the wild).

The sockeye which are reared for a short time are surviving at a minimum estimated rate of 2.0-2.5 times greater than those rearing in the wild.

Over the past decade, the hatchery has produced on average 65% of the total return from just 11% of the available eggs.

By the year 2000, more than 140,000,000 sockeye fry will have been released from the hatchery.

For brood year 2003 sockeye production will be transferred to a new isolation facility at Inch Creek Hatchery. The new facility will produce 2 M fed fry. In addition hatchery staff will continue to operate the Alvin Patterson spawning channel.


Interception (catch) rates average about 60% (10-90% range) of the returning adults. In most years the largest portion of this catch is taken by the lower Fraser River gill net (commercial and aboriginal) and the West coast troll fisheries. Seine and gill net fisheries in Johnson and Juan de Fuca Straights, as well as sport fishers from outer Barclay Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island through to the Fraser River, are also known to harvest these fish. Over the past 50 years the estimated catch has ranged from 6,000-167,000 pieces, and escapement to the spawning grounds has ranged from 5,000-55,000 fish.

Watershed Restoration

This 2,000 km2 upper Pitt River drainage has always seen frequent severe flooding throughout the fall and winter months as noted in records as far back as the turn of the century when observers spoke of most sockeye eggs spawned likely being destroyed during flood events. From 1930-1960, logging operations severely degraded the stream-side environment, leaving the lower valley floor and it's streams even more unstable (under today's Forest Practices Code these environmentally poor logging practices are not allowed). Sockeye egg to fry survivals elsewhere in the wild are commonly in the 30% range, but in the upper Pitt they average -10% as flood related scouring (eggs wash away) and silt deposition (eggs suffocate) take place. An attempt to increase the wild survival rate of sockeye and other species is being carried out with the construction and rehabilitation of various channels and waterways.

Pitt River Hatchery staff have fulfilled the role of watershed stewardship coordinator, with the hatchery site utilized as the area base of operations for habitat rehabilitation and construction funded by the provincial Watershed Restoration Program and DFO. Partners responsible for completion of these programs include the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the B.C. Government, J.S. Jones Timber Ltd., the Katzie First Nation and the Steelhead Society Corp. of BC. Some of the projects completed to date are:

Mosquito Creek Channel (a Corbold Creek tributary and old Pitt River side channel) is a slow-moving channel (rehabilitated 1995) intended to provide critical rearing and overwintering habitat for the benefit of coho and other salmonids. Upwards of 5,000 coho smolts, as well as numerous rainbow and cutthroat trout, along with a few chinook and bull trout (dollie varden) have been counted leaving in the spring of each year. These "slough-like" channels located adjacent to woodlands are also extremely important to numerous amphibian and bird species as well.

Alvin Pattersen Spawning Channel (constructed 1996-1997) located adjacent to Corbold Creek, is operated by hatchery staff, and has seen up to 4,500 sockeye spawners. The eggs and alevins are protected from the violent flooding and survival to fry is estimated at 25-40%. The channel has also seen spawning chinook, coho, chum, cutthroat, and whitefish, as well as providing over-wintering and rearing area for trout and coho.

Fish Hatchery Creek channel (constructed 1998) also operated by hatchery staff, utilizes the Alvin Pattersen water intake structure. Provides additional spawning and rearing area for salmonids, but more importantly, reduces excessive summer water temperatures and creates stable over-wintering habitat in Fish Hatchery Creek. Coho, steelhead, sockeye, and cutthroat have utilized these increased flows during the first six months of operation.

Homestead Creek channel (constructed 1998) is also a small tributary of Corbold Creek and is located on the hatchery site. This ephemeral creek acted as a "fish trap" during periods of rapid drying following freshets and so, was a "negative" fish producer. This project utilizes the hatchery's outflow water supply to provide year round stable flows for spawning, rearing, and over-wintering. Coho, sockeye, and pink have utilized in the first six months of operation.

These four projects have utilized most of available area near the hatchery on the Corbold Creek "fan" . Other sites have also been selected for enhancement activities and will be carried out in the future, with activities planned for Slough and Forestry Creeks over the next few years.

Hatchery Calendar

Broodstock capture and egg-takes: Early to mid September

Eggs/Alevins on site: Early September to mid March

Rearing fry on site: Mid March to early July

No fish on site (summer maintenance period): Early July to early September

Spawning sockeye salmon can be viewed throughout Corbold Creek and the Alvin Pattersen Spawning Channel from late August to late September with peak activity normally September 5-15.

(Taken from the Discussion board posting by Ken Kristian)

Salmon All Categories
  Article Topics Date
1. Salmon Fish Farms Salmon May 2007
2. Upper Pitt River Salmon Salmon Apr 2007
3. How to Properly Store Salmon Salmon Mar 2007
4. Smoked Salmon Recipe Salmon, Smoking Mar 2007
5. Favourite Salmon to Eat Salmon, Smoking Mar 2007
6. Salmon Fishing Page Salmon Mar 2007
7. Chinook Salmon Mar 2007
8. Sockeye Salmon Mar 2007
9. Pink Salmon Salmon Mar 2007
10. Chum Salmon Salmon Mar 2007
11. Float’n spinners for Salmon & Steelhead Salmon, Steelhead, Tackle Jan 2004
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