Young Chum Salmon
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If you stand quietly on the shore of Kwilákm, you may notice small fish darting here and there in the shallows, sometimes breaking the surface as they feed. These fish may be shiner perch or stickleback, but they also might be young salmon.
No species is better connected to all parts of our estuary—Terminal Creek, the Lagoon, and Kwilákm—than our salmon. Adult chum salmon return each year from the Pacific Ocean to lay their eggs in gravel by the Causeway or in Terminal Creek. And when salmon fry rise from the gravel the following spring, they drift downstream to Kwilákm, where they spend the next several months feeding along the shorelines and fattening up before heading towards the open ocean. Even more salmon fry in Kwilákm come from the hatchery in Crippen Park, where volunteers raise both chum and coho salmon eggs over the winter and then release the fry into Terminal Creek and the Lagoon. See Chum Salmon.
Once in Kwilákm, the juvenile salmon, now 4 to 5 cm long, feed on tiny ocean plankton animals as well as insects from shoreline vegetation. But there are challenges. These fresh water fry need to adapt to the salt water of the ocean. They must also avoid predators such as the stalking heron, the fish-eating merganser, and the fast-moving cutthroat trout. Beds of eelgrass and seaweed in the shallows provide important refuges for young salmon where they can both hide and feed.
If all goes well and the juvenile salmon survive their summer in Kwilákm, the young salmon, now about 8 to 10 cm long, are ready to head to the open ocean. After two to four years, if they have avoided all the predators at sea, and the fishing boats along the coast, they will return to the Lagoon and Terminal Creek, following the scent of the stream waters where they were born.