The Sockeye Salmon of the Pacific Northwest
The sockeye is almost toothless, with numerous long gill and prominent, glassy eyes. The slimmest and most streamlined of the pacific species, the silver blue sockeye lives from four to five years. It usually weighs between 2 kg and 4 kg but can reach 7 kg. Young sockeye remain in fresh water nursery lakes for a year or more before migrating to the sea.
Like all species of Pacific salmon, sockeye salmon are anadromous, living in the ocean but entering fresh water to spawn. Sockeye salmon spend one to four years in fresh water and one to three years in the ocean.
Most sockeye salmon return to spawn in June and July in freshwater drainage’s that contain one or more lakes. Spawning itself usually occurs in rivers, streams, and up welling areas along lake beaches. During this time 2,000 – 5,000 eggs are deposited in one or more “redds”, which the female digs with her tail over several days time. Males and females both die within a few weeks after spawning.
Eggs hatch during the winter, and the young remain in the gravel, living off their yolk sacs. In the spring. they emerge from the gravel as fry and move to rearing areas. In systems with lakes, juveniles usually spend one to three years in fresh water, feeding on zooplankton and small crustaceans, before migrating to the ocean in the spring as smolts. However, in systems without lakes, many juveniles migrate to the ocean soon after emerging from the gravel.
Smolts weigh only a few ounces upon entering salt water, but they grow quickly during their time in the ocean, feeding on plankton, insects, small crustaceans, and occasionally squid and small fish. Sockeye salmon travel thousands of miles during this time. Eventually they return to spawn in the same freshwater system where they were Born.
The lips of a sockeye are fleshy, the teeth are small and well developed in both jaws. There are no teeth on the base of the tongue.
One time, a friend and I were camping on village bay lakes on Quadra Island. We were out in the canoe fishing one day and as we were slowly moving along, when suddenly, a great red shadow moved under the boat, this red mass was huge and it fascinated me. Then it came back, slower this time and we saw that it was a huge school of Sockeye Salmon. Absolutely amazing to see.