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COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Sockeye Salmon Oncorhynchus nerka Sakinaw population in Canada

Special Significance of the Species

Sockeye salmon are economically the most important species of Pacific salmon, contributing to commercial, recreational and aboriginal catches along the Pacific coast of North America. The number of extant populations has declined in the southern parts of the species’ range (e.g., Nehlsen et al. 1991, Slaney et al. 1996). As of January 2003, sockeye salmon are considered threatened by extinction in four ESUs, two in southern Canada, (Sakinaw Lake and Cultus Lake, based on October 2002 Emergency Assessments by COSEWIC) and two in the US Pacific Northwest (Snake River and Ozette Lake, listed under the US Endangered Species Act).

Sakinaw Lake is the largest lake on the Sechelt Peninsula and supports the last remaining anadromous sockeye salmon population in southern Georgia Strait (excluding those that migrate through Georgia Strait to the Fraser River). Conservation of Sakinaw sockeye is a high priority for the Sechelt Indian Band because Sakinaw Lake lies within their traditional territory and historically provided the Sechelt people with abundant returns of sockeye salmon. Sockeye salmon import marine-derived nutrients to Sakinaw Lake and may play a significant role in maintaining the productivity of the Sakinaw Lake ecosystem, including a variety of animal and plant life. The juveniles contribute to the complexity of the lake’s food web, consuming invertebrates and serving as prey for native fish, birds and mammals. Returning adults are consumed by river otters, bears and lampreys, and the carcasses provide food for bald eagles and other species. Thus, Sakinaw sockeye play a significant role in the ecology of the Sakinaw Lake ecosystem.