Record sockeye returns in the Fraser River have wound their way up to Pemberton, where the fish have been seen in great numbers in One Mile Creek.
Veronica Woodruff of the Stewardship Pemberton Society said she's seen fish in channels throughout Pemberton but has been struck by the presence of sockeye salmon in One Mile Creek.
"One Mile's not a place you normally get it," she said. "The last time I'd seen sockeye there was 2003, which was a huge run of sockeye, over 300,000 sockeye that year.
"When you get such big numbers, they tend to spread out to areas where they aren't seen normally. It's great for us, because the nature centre's going right up there, and they're spawning right at the entrance to the nature centre, right under the new pedestrian bridge."
The sockeye have arrived in Pemberton after a swarm of fish came up the Fraser this year to return to spawning grounds far inland. They first arrived in mid-August and the run is expected to end sometime this month.
The sockeye run alleviated concerns about salmon - at least for one year - after millions failed to return last year. That sparked a federal inquiry into the impacts of open-net fish farms and the spread of sea lice.
Hugh Naylor, a Pemberton resident and former manager of a salmon hatchery on the Birkenhead River, called Pique last week to acknowledge the returns. He said heavy runs like the ones that have been seen in the Fraser often cause stray fish to find their way into channels where they're not normally found.
"This year Pemberton Creek is one of those creeks," he said. "There's, I don't know, probably 50 sockeye that have found their way into Pemberton Creek. And there's another perhaps 20 fish that have gone into One Mile Lake and they're actually spawning at the south end of the lake, the beach area there.
"This is a pretty rare occurrence, I haven't seen this many in all the years I've been here. I haven't seen that many sockeye in the system."
The fish end up in Pemberton waters by way of Harrison Lake and the Lillooet River. They swim up through Lillooet Lake, then into the river, make a turn at Airport Road, take a left into Pemberton Creek and then find their way into One Mile Creek and the lake.
Woodruff said the fish have also been seen at Samson and Railroad Creeks in the upper Lillooet area, downstream from the site of the Aug. 6 landslide that brought silt and debris into Meager Creek and some connecting channels.
The fish, according to Naylor, seem to be resisting the turbid waters.
"Anytime you've got excessive silt in the rivers, it can harm things," he said. "But the tributaries - the situation took place right in the main Lillooet River. The tributaries, like Pemberton Creek, the Ryan, they weren't affected, it was just in the main stem of the Lillooet."
The arrival of fish could help enhance the learning experience at the One Mile Lake Nature Centre, which is being built on the northeast corner of One Mile Lake Park. Its aim is to provide a "watershed-based educational experience" and seeing fish in the surrounding waters gives a whole different experience than just reading about them at the centre.
"It's one thing to tell people about fish, but when they actually see it with their own eyes, it's a different learning experience than seeing it in a textbook," Woodruff said. "It's important for us to have those real, visual links to our education program."
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