The Adams River Salmon Run

May 2, 2012 2 comments

The Adams River is a tributary of the Fraser River in British Columbia, Canada. During mid-October millions of sockeye salmon run through this river and concentrate near the river mouth for breeding, an event that occurs once every four years. As many as 10 to 15 million salmons battle the Fraser River and the Thompson River to reach the 12 kilometer Adams River - the final stop to their 4,000 kilometer journey - where they spawn and die. While the sockeye return every year, the migration that occurs every fourth year (2010, 2014, 2018...) dwarfs the others.

Adams River sockeye travel from their spawning grounds to the South Thompson River, then into the Fraser River, and enter the Pacific. From the Strait of Georgia, they spend three years in the open ocean following Arctic currents to Alaska and the Aleutian islands. They then retrace their route to the Adams, completing a round trip of over 4,000 kilometers. At this point their numbers are reduced to about 2 million. They complete the arduous trip upstream, including navigating the swift waters and rapids of the Fraser Canyon, in just seventeen days. Unbelievably, the salmons do not eat during this period, instead relying on fat reserves stored up from heavy feeding in the Strait of Georgia in the late summer. It is at this point that the salmon take on their distinctive red hue, with the male fish also developing large humped backs and aggressive hooked mouths.


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When a suitable location is found, the female digs a nest from 10 to 40 cm deep while the male hovers nearby, fending off all intruders. The female deposits approximately 3,500 pinkish eggs to which the male adds a whitish milt to fertilize them. The sockeye pair then cover the eggs with loose gravel as protection against marauding fish and birds.

Within the next 10 days, the crimson pair will turn a chalky gray as their tired and battered bodies slowly give up life, passing on the task of the continuation of the species to the tiny pink eggs that lay beneath the gravel.

The Adams River salmon run is patiently waited upon by grizzly bears, black bears, fishermen as well as tourist. Native fishermen, commercial fishermen and sport fishermen pursue the sockeye salmon from California to Alaska, both in the North Pacific Ocean and the rivers where the salmon enter to spawn and die. In 1913, more than 31 million sockeye were harvested from the run, a catch total that has never been repeated.

The best place to view the run is at the Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park. This is located between Adams Lake and the Shuswap Lake, about a 40 minute drive from Kamloops. The crimson salmon are easily seen in the river at the Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park where viewing platforms and walking paths have been established for many visitors to enjoy this natural attraction.


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Sockeye salmons (Oncorhynchus nerka), adults migrating up the Adams River to spawn. B.C. 


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Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4


  1. Great article. Thanks. Although, I question your ad choice (top of page) of XL Keystone Pipeline selling their propaganda threatens all major salmon runs in British Columbia. More than just a contradiction.


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