The question being asked by many about the 2017 spawner returns to Cortes creeks is, “Where were the salmon?” Here is a little background to a very complex question. Many potential factors are at play – rainfall, water temperatures of creeks and oceans, specific life/spawning cycles for each species, oceanic conditions, and human impact from fishing, development around creeks, and fish farms.
Low water levels in watersheds were widespread throughout Vancouver Island and mainland coastal areas during this summer and early fall, which was especially evident in smaller creeks. Generally, Cortes creeks are considered small creeks. Throughout our region, it does appear that low water levels hindered salmon migration, and especially into smaller creeks. However, rainfall amounts increased in the latter half of October, bringing Cortes creek levels well up for salmon passage.
Cortes streamkeepers have been monitoring & recording spawner counts since 2013, and Klahoose longer. This gives a 5-year span to compare numbers and dates, which is useful information, but not long enough to begin to see long-term patterns. We have seen chum returning as early as the end of September, although October and November are the months that chum are usually seen. Coho are very difficult to see, but are known to be active through December and perhaps January.
Observations made this fall by streamkeepers were: Basil Creek – 1 live chum and Observations made by islanders were: increased seal & sea lion activity along the Cortes shoreline in October. Were they feasting on salmon holding in the sea for creek levels to rise? Many people commented on seeing very few salmon jumping in the bays and channels, so were there fewer salmon preparing to return to creeks this fall? Some salmon were seen rising in Carrington Lagoon in early October, but did they sneak into James Creek unnoticed? Chum are known to stray to other creeks, and also to return between 3 – 5 years, so did chum due to mature in 2017 return during the high counts in 2016?
In summary, the low spawner returns of chum in Cortes creeks for this fall were reflected throughout our coastal region. There are more questions than answers for this year, and any further clarity may clarify somewhat in 2018.
On a bright, finishing note, an exciting project has commenced at the Klahoose hatchery in November. The genetic stock of chum in Cortes creeks can be traced to Sliammon chum from the Powell River area, and for the first time in many years, Sliammon chum eggs are being incubated on Cortes. Approximately, 45,000 eyed-chum eggs came from the Powell River Salmon Society, a small hatchery at Lang Creek. They are expected to hatch into alevin with their brilliant orange lunch sacs, in late December, and will be released into Basil Creek, and we hope, Whaletown Creek, in February/March. For many years, the Quinsam Hatchery in Campbell River provided coho eggs for rearing & release. This change to chum is encouraging news because chum is tough & variable in life cycle and possibly better survivors. Chum also leave creeks early in the spring, and do not spend a year in fresh water as coho do, so they are less affected by low creek levels. We are working towards in-stream incubation of chum eggs in Cortes Creeks for 2018. Rock on chum!
Thanks to all the committed spawner counters – Tosh & Kellen, Mike Manson, Chris Napper, Chris Dragseth, DeAnn Reeves, Rick Kolstead & Deb Peters, Cec & Christine Robinson, Children’s Forest Youth & adults, Carrington bikers, and the walking group. And thanks to the landowners adjacent to creeks for their daily monitoring of fish presence – DeAnn Reeves, Ben & Ann Fulton, Shaynee & David Findlay.
Look forward to a community tour of the creek restoration and new open-arch at Basil Creek in the spring.
COMMUNITY SUPPORTING SALMON!
Christine, Cec Robinson (FOCI Streamkeepers)