After a thorough annual spring cleaning, the fish ladder at the Ballard Locks reopens tonight, just in time for the arrival of the sockeye salmon and Memorial Day weekend. The sockeye are on their way. Our insiders tell us that four sockeye were recently spotted in the area.
Of the 3 Pacific salmon species that use the fish ladder, the sockeye are the first to return each year, coming back from the Gulf of Alaska where they have been feeding for the last two to three years. The majority of the sockeye that pass through the Ballard Locks were hatched on the Cedar River and are returning there to spawn.
When we see the sockeye at the Locks they are silver in color. It’s called the “ocean phase.” The sockeye in this phase are easily identified from other salmon species by the lack of spots on their backs. Adult sockeye will average from 24 to 30 inches in length. They weigh from six to eight pounds. As they journey through fresh water to the spawning beds their bodies will take on the distinctive red color called the “freshwater phase.”
After moving through the Ship Canal and lakes Union and Washington, the sockeye salmon will reach their spawning beds in late September or early October. Each female will lay several thousand eggs in the gravel of the riverbed. Salmon die after spawning, becoming an important part of the ecosystem as their decaying bodies return essential nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus to the soil.
The fish ladder viewing gallery is open daily from 7 a.m.-8:45 p.m., there are displays there and in the Visitor Center (10 - 6:00 daily) with additional information on the salmon life cycle.