This pink salmon swam farther up the Mackenzie River than ever recorded

Two pink salmon have been found near Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., 260 kilometres farther up the Mackenzie River than ever reported.

Fish had been recorded near Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T. before, but that's 260 kilometres away

This pink salmon is one of at least two that swam the Mackenzie River as far as Fort Good Hope, N.W.T. That's the farthest upstream ever recorded by the Arctic Salmon project. (Arctic Salmon project/Facebook)

Two pink salmon have been found near Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., 260 kilometres farther up the Mackenzie River than ever reported.

The two pink salmon were caught last fall and given to the Arctic Salmon project, which has been tracking the change in distribution of salmon in the Arctic since 2000. 

People who give a salmon to the project — including information about when and where the salmon was found — receive a gift card in return.

"Prior to those two pink salmon being traded in, we hadn't had any pink salmon received upstream of Tsiigehtchic," explained Karen Dunmall, an aquatic biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, who is also the lead researcher on the project.

This doesn't necessarily mean these are the first pink salmon to have been caught in that area, just that they're the first to be traded in to the Arctic Salmon project for analysis, Dunmall said.

Pink salmon are smaller and swim shorter distances in freshwater than other species of salmon. That's part of the reason why they weren't expected to be that far up the river, Dunmall explained.

Karen Dunmall leads the Arctic Salmon project, which tracks where salmon are caught in the Arctic. (Submitted by Karen Dunmall)

"This is another indication of changing distribution and abundance of salmon in the Arctic," she said.

There isn't a clear reason why the salmon were found farther up the river, but Dunmall pointed to three possibilities:

  • There are more pink salmon in the Mackenzie River.
  • The salmon can swim farther up the river because they have access to open water earlier in the season.
  • More people are trading their salmon into the research program.

"Some of the species are changing and the timing is changing and where they're showing up is also changing," Dunmall said.

One thing the researchers are working on is finding out if salmon can spawn in the same place as native species like Dolly Varden trout and Arctic char. The researchers have found a few locations where both could spawn, but there's no evidence salmon have successfully done so yet.

Dunmall said there could also be some benefits to having more salmon around — other species could use their eggs as a food source.