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Mystery of nature unfolds in rural Canadian river

10-12-2010 09:52 BJT

VANCOUVER, Oct. 11 (Xinhua) -- One of nature's great spectacles is currently drawing thousands of curious onlookers to the interior of British Columbia to witness a torrent of sockeye salmon returning to the area to spawn.

At the Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park which borders the Adams River, the prime destination for the spawning salmon, the atmosphere at the usually tranquil area is almost carnival-like. Volunteers brandishing wooden cut-outs of salmon direct the flood of traffic -- there are as many vehicles from neighboring Alberta as there are from B.C. in the makeshift parking lot -- while a wood carver quickly produces "art" with a few precision slashes of his chainsaw.

The local Rotary Club does roaring business serving up fast food to the masses, while a map keeping track of the visitors indicates they have come from such far away destinations as Argentina and the Pitcairn Islands, among others.

The Chinese presence at Adams River, located about five and half hours' drive east of Vancouver, is also noticeable, indicative of the great wave of Chinese mainlanders who have immigrated to Canada in recent years. The map indicates they have come from destinations ranging from Shanghai, Urumqi, Guangzhou and Qiqihar, Heilongjiang province, among others.

The stars of the show that has brought them all here are the millions of sockeye salmon that are returning to the area where they were born four and five years ago. Following a downturn in salmon stocks for the past 20 years, an estimated, and unexpected, 34 million salmon returned to the Fraser, British Columbia's main river, this year. It is said to be the biggest run since 1913.

Brian Riddell, president and CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation, called the massive influx of fish "a nice surprise" as their numbers was about twice what was forecast.

"The north Pacific (Ocean) in this past year had to be enormously productive because of the animals we are seeing back, this is a historic large run. But the animals are very, very large and healthy. They have very high oil content and they're described as some of the best sockeye in many years."

With Fisheries and Oceans Canada allowing commercial fisherman to catch up to 13.6 million fish this year, not to mention others caught by sport fisherman and native Indians, Riddell estimated about 7 or 8 million salmon, just over half of them female, would return to Adams River for the spawning season that will last through October.

With their striking red bodies and green heads, the fish, all weighing about 2.75 kilograms on average, have undergone a radical transformation in their appearance as their lifecycle nears an end. Literally sitting in the shallow waters in the tributaries of the Adams River, the males fight for access to the nest-building females.

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