Column: B.C.’s steelhead under increasing pressure

Great Outdoors by James Murray

The magnificent and powerful steelhead that inhabit many of the legendary fishing rivers of British Columbia are swiftly moving ever closer to becoming an endangered species.

In last week’s column I talked about the plight of Thompson River steelhead specifically, and the fact they are under ever-increasing pressure due to a number of factors including global warming, changing ocean conditions, Interior fish habitat destruction and incidental catch by First Nation and commercial salmon fisheries along the Fraser River system.

I stated the situation was grim and their future uncertain.

I was surprised to learn afterwards how many people were, in fact, aware of the situation. I was also surprised to find out how little most people actually know about steelhead, other than that B.C. steelhead were once considered one of the most highly sought after of all sport fish.

Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) are rainbow trout that act more like salmon. In other words, they’re an anadromous form of rainbow trout that migrate to the ocean and return to the rivers where they were born to spawn. They also grow much larger than regular Interior resident rainbow trout. Unlike salmon, however, they do not necessarily die after spawning. Some return to the ocean while still others, under certain circumstances, do not actually go out to sea at all.

At one point, the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (scientists) considered steelhead to be salmon. Now they say they are trout. Although according to the DFO website, they also say “steelhead are more closely related to Pacific salmon than to trout species in other parts of the world.”

Steelhead are similar appearance to rainbow trout, especially during the earlier stages of their life cycle. They can vary in colour depending on the amount of time they have spent in freshwater, as opposed to their marine environment. Mature adult steelhead can range in length from 50 to 85 centimetres and weight up to 25-plus kilograms.

Read more: Liberal Party salmon farm pledge ‘destructive,’ industry group says

Read more: Column: Thompson River steelhead swimning toward extinction

Read more: Deciding to be part of fishing solution, not problem

They range from the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, east along the Aleutian Islands, throughout southwest Alaska, the west coast of British Columbia and south along the west coast of the United States to northern Mexico. In Canada, steelhead can be found in most of the larger British Columbia watersheds from the south coastal area through to northwestern part of the province.

There are two distinct runs of pre-spawn steelhead appropriately termed winter-run and summer-run steelhead. Winter-run enter the freshwater during the winter months, while summer-runs begin their migration during the spring and summer. Summer-run fish begin to enter into freshwater as early as April and on through the warmer summer months. However, despite the differences in their migration timing, both winter- and summer-run fish typically spawn in the spring and early summer months.

Steelhead are able to spawn a number of times during their lives. Eggs are deposited into gravel redds located in shallow, fast-flowing waters. Newly hatched alevin remain in this gravel habitat until they emerge as fry. The fry move into deeper pools where they spend from one to three years before making their way to the ocean as smolts. Steelhead that have spawned and make their way back to the ocean are called kelts. They will stay in the ocean for up to a year before returning to spawn again.

The problem is that steelhead populations in our province are facing a great number of pressures and threats to their very existence. Steelhead numbers are in decline pretty well everywhere.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Petition seeks to clean up Okanagan forests ‘carpeted’ with shotgun shells

Penticton man says making shot-gun shells refundable would create cleaner forests

Shuswap cabin owner hopes to improve B.C.-Alberta relations

Alberta resident redrafts response to CSRD request to stay home

Single-lane traffic on Highway 1 in Salmon Arm due to aging watermain

City says goodbye to cast-iron main while moving it off highway, into park

Snapshot: Distanced dancing in Salmon Arm

Friends use picnic shelter at Blackburn Park for safe practice

Okanagan film society screening for scholarships

North Okanagan students pursuing creative arts can apply for $2,000 bursaries

Enderby’s drive-in not safe from top doc’s 50-car limit

Starlight Drive-In opened with reduced capacity, COVID-19 safety measures in place

Parking lot patios a go in Vernon

Council votes in favour of allowing businesses to expand commercial space into on-street parking spots

Petition seeks to clean up Okanagan forests ‘carpeted’ with shotgun shells

Penticton man says making shot-gun shells refundable would create cleaner forests

Kelowna’s main drag will be closed to vehicles this summer

Kelowna’s Bernard Avenue will be a pedestrian-only roadway from June 29 through the Labour Day long weekend

Vernon gym knocked out by COVID-19

9Round Fitness in Vernon Square Mall owners announce permanent closure of facility

Kelowna’s Homebase Baseball Tournament cancelled

A live auction will still take place to raise funds for Joeanna’s House

Kelowna General Hospital Foundation launches fundraising initiative to support local health care

The initiative also highlights workers at Kelowna General Hospital

Kelowna man charged with harming a hamster

The 20-year-old Kelowna man faces several animal cruelty charges

Most Read