Migrating salmon up the Seymour River get human help to make it past a massive rock slide that came down in the area in December 2014. Fish are trapped, carried in backpacks up 140+ stairs and then trucked to a hatchery to continue their lifecycle.
On a rainy day in November in the District of North Vancouver, a group is heading down the stairway that leads to the Seymour River. Down below, people are in the river, setting up nets. The group’s goal is to catch mature salmon that have returned here to spawn.
Jeremy Appleton, Metro Vancouver Field Biologist, describes the technique to catch the fish. “Today we are using tangle nets floating across the river so we can pull them to shore and the fish are kind of wrapped in the nets.”
Volunteers Put Their Back Into It
The salmon are carefully removed from the tangle net and put in a holding pen, but the real challenge is getting them to the special holding truck on the road above.
“The fish are placed in dry bags filled with water, which are closed and put into a backpack and then hiked up the stairs where they will go into the hatchery truck and be transported from there,” said Appleton.
Moving the fish is not easy work as there are a lot of stairs for the volunteers to conquer.
“We don’t know of any other method to get these fish out of where we are working. Unfortunately, it’s 142 stairs, we’ve counted them many times up from the river to our truck,” said Brian Smith, Manager of the Seymour River Hatchery. “But it’s the only way we know of to get those fish out of there. One or two fish and 40 lbs of water and up the stairs we go.”
Despite the weather and the stairs, nobody complains, not even the volunteers. “Some of the volunteers that were with us today, this was their very first day. So the learning curve is steep for some of them but they have a feeling of accomplishment; they’re helping to protect and make these fish survive,” Smith said.
Rockslide Blocks Salmon Passage
This year it is especially important to catch fish and bring them to the hatchery because of a recent change in the salmon habitat. In December 2014, a slide of about 50,000 cubic metres of rock fell in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve that created an impoundment in the Seymour River.
“The river has changed upstream of the rockslide and it’s changed the flow patterns on the Seymour,” Appleton said. “With some tagging we’ve been able to determine that the rockslide is a complete barrier to fish passage at this point.”
If the spawning grounds are not accessible this season this could be devastating for the salmon population. “When the slide came in it pretty much eliminated all the spawning area for Coho and Steelhead. If we were to leave them alone a lot of these fish wouldn’t even spawn,” said Smith. “We are trying to get them back up to an area where we can spawn them and get them in our incubation system, where they would have a lot better survival than Mother Nature would at this point.”
Working Together to Save Salmon Population
Brian Smith notes there are a lot of groups working together to protect these salmon. “We’re partnered with Metro Vancouver, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish First Nations, our own volunteers, members of the community and our own staff are all pitching in to help. We also have DFO who is a big supporter of what we are doing,” he said.
Once at the hatchery the fish are sorted into holding pens. “We’re identifying what sex they are and with the females we are identifying whether they are ready to spawn. The resulting juveniles from the fish that we brought up to the hatchery will be raised here until the smolt stage and that’s the stage where they will be ready to go back to the ocean,” said Smith.
In the ocean the salmon will be hunted by Orcas, seals and fishers. The ones that survive these dangers will come back. According to Smith, “They should head out to the ocean for two years or so and return to the Seymour looking for a place to spawn,” he said. “Hopefully by that time we should have fish passage again through the slide.”
The important work done today by all the different groups and volunteers on the Seymour River will help ensure that salmon will remain a part of this healthy ecosystem.
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