Welcome, Salmonids!

A close up of our coho salmon eyed-eggs, with one hatched alevin.

Each year, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site turns into a temporary nursery to raise coho salmon, courtesy of the Little Campbell River Hatchery, as part of the Salmonids in the Classroom program.

By Heritage Interpreter Lauren

This winter, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery received this year’s batch of 59 coho salmon eggs. These growing salmonids began their journey growing at the Little Campbell River Hatchery in Surrey, BC and joined the Cannery Crew on December 13th, 2023.

Salmon eggs are very sensitive. Even the slightest disturbances, such as temperature or light, can be fatal. This is why, for the first months of these egg’s life, they can be seen inside a regulated tank in our lobby-known as the ‘Coho in the Cannery Cradle.’

The salmon embryos, wiggling energetically, will break through their egg linings as an alevins – the next stage in the salmon lifecycle. As alevin, they hide in the tank’s gravel for about a month and rely on the yolk sacs attached to their bodies for nutrients. When the yolk sack is completely absorbed, they will begin to emerge from the gravel as fry at about 2.5cm long. (At the time this article is published – we have one hatched alevin! Can you spot the tail in the photo above?)

From “swim up” fry, the young salmon then grow into “free-swimming” fry. They prefer calm pools and feed on small larvae and insects. At this stage of the lifecycle, the salmon fry must be released back into the Little Campbell River because a crucial part of the salmon lifecycle begins: imprinting. During this stage, fry remember the smell of the water they grew up in. As adults, they swim upstream from the ocean and try and return to the same spot. The rocks, soil, plant life, and other aquatic organisms all create the scent that salmon return to.

Following their release into the Little Campbell River, the salmon fry will grow into smolt, salmon adults, and then back to their home river as salmon spawners to lay their eggs, beginning the lifecycle all over again! This process is extremely delicate, and survival rate of wild salmon is very low. Out of 2500 salmon eggs and alevin, only two will grow into spawners.

Salmon are an essential part of the British Columbian ecosystem and are crucial in the food chain of both aquatic and terrestrial life. Hatcheries, such as the Little Campbell Hatchery, aim to replenish the salmon population to combat salmon habitat loss and decreasing populations. These hatcheries grow salmon eggs in a safe environment and increase the local population.

When we reopen, feel free to come into the Cannery and welcome the coho eggs in our ‘Coho in the Cannery Cradle’ and catch a glimpse into the salmon lifecycle in action!