Salvaging salmon

Drought conditions are putting salmon fry at risk in rivers with perilously low water levels.

West Coast Aquatic summer student Gavin Purewhal and part-time employee Susan Lauder salvage salmon fry from what remains of Dry Creek on July 21.

Atypically hot and dry weather is wreaking havoc on the Alberni Valley’s salmon fry population.

While West Coast Aquatic does some salmon fry relocation every year, it’s been especially hectic this year, said WCA’s Sheena Falconer.

“We do Dry Creek every year and then right now we’ve been doing fry salvage for about a month in other places.

“We’re salvaging these fry because the pools are getting smaller and smaller and smaller,” said Falconer.

“We put the traps in the water and we collect the fry from these areas where the water’s rapidly going to dry up and fry can’t remain there.”

Streams like Dry Creek dry up every summer around this time, Falconer said.

“For Dry Creek this is about standard,” she said.

“For other places, it’s a lot lower.”

The lower water levels and the warmer temperatures have had Alberni Valley residents just as concerned as Falconer.

“This year, because it’s so dry, you can see the sockeye returning adults dying along the rivers at Sproat and Somass,” said Falconer.

“It’s all the same thing—really high temperatures, low flows.”

Normally, at this time of year the salmon fry in Dry Creek are released into the bigger pools the city and WCA have dug in the area. This year, that’s not possible because the pits are drying up faster than usual.

“What we normally do is release them in the next biggest pool but we can’t do that this year,” said Falconer, citing the earlier than usual drying up of the pools.

“[Dry Creek] does always dry up every summer but this pit was full in the fall… we dug this pit purposefully to extend the season as long as we can.”

Instead, WCA is releasing the fry straight into the Somass River.

KATYA SLEPIAN/Alberni Valley News

West Coast Aquatic summer student Gavin Purewal releases salmon fry off the Clutesi Haven Marina boat launch into the Somass River on July 21.

“So we’re just releasing them straight into Clutesi now,” said Falconer.

“Can’t really put them anywhere else because you’re going to kill the other fish” because there is only so much oxygen and food to go around.

There are plans for the city and WCA to dig another pond later.

“One of the projects we’re doing with the city will involve making a really big pool here (at Dry Creek),” she said.

“We’re a work in progress at Dry Creek for sure.”

But for now, Falconer is focusing on the immediate issue.

“We’re doing a lot of fry salvage everywhere all over the Valley.”

And they’re not the only ones.

“We’re getting a lot of questions, people asking what they should be doing because they’re seeing places dry up where they normally don’t,” she said.

While Falconer appreciates people’s interest in saving the fry, she’s concerned that they might be killing more fish than they save.

When people take fish from small ponds and move them to bigger ones, they’re not always saving them.

“Unbeknownst to them, what they’re probably doing is killing all the fish in here now,” she said.

“There’s a limited amount of carrying capacity in the ponds.”

In past years, when conditions were less dire for the fish, that worked.

This year, Falconer said that if people want to move fry to another body of water, they need to think big.

“Take them to the marina or to the lakes or don’t at all.”

Ideally, Falconer would prefer that people call WCA or the Alberni Valley Enhancement Association.

“If people want to do fry salvage then if they can let us know we can come and give them a hand,” said Falconer, citing licencing requirements for moving fish.

“People aren’t just supposed to move fish around.”

By calling either WCA or the AVEA—whose licences cover the whole Alberni Valley—people can ensure that they’re moving fish both legally and safely.

The offer isn’t just open for public bodies of water.

“If they’re concerned about fish on their property, we can give them a kit and we’ll support them.”

To get more information about fry salvage, call 250-724-3600 ext. 202 or email sheena@westcoastaquatic.ca.

reporter@albernivalleynews.com

twitter.com/AlberniNews

 

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