Colquitz River salmon below anticipated levels

The 1,109 coho counted on Colquitz River below the 1,500 that were expected

Led by a group of Colquitz River salmon stewards

Despite an increase over last year’s number, it was a down year for coho salmon at the Colquitz River fish fence, according to local volunteer Dorothy Chambers.

The final fish count numbers for the Colquitz River counting fence in 2016 had 1,108 coho and one chum salmon. There were 384 males, 497 females and 227 jacks (young cohos two to 2.5 years that return early to spawn). There were also 12 cutthroat.

Chambers inherited the lead for the fish fence counting project in 2016 after being part of the team for years. She believes a pair of recent spills contaminated the river and affected the salmon run. The expected numbers should have been closer to the peak coho count of 1,500 that came through in 2013, she said.

“There were two contaminations from the McKenzie interchange but I don’t have proof they impacted the salmon run,” Chambers said.

Last year the total number of fish was just 265. However, that number was in line with what was predicted.

“The 2015 numbers were based on 2012-13 and based on a series of issues that also led the DFO to predict smaller numbers, such as the warm blob [which drew additional predators to B.C.’s offshore waters] and a red tide,” Chambers said. “We didn’t have those predictions this year.”

Chambers points to an initial Nov. 23 contamination which led to sediment in the Colquitz River estuary. She said the salmon abruptly stopped entering the Colquitz during that break.

Then on Nov. 28 there was a second contamination of sediment into the Colquitz.

Following that, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure initiated 24/7 environmental monitoring for the site.

Coho numbers were also strong at the Craigflower Creek, where 1,499 coho were counted by the Esquimalt Anglers Association.

The anglers took over the counting in 1987 from the DFO, which had been running it for decades previous. Average years are similar to Colquitz with about 350 to 450.

“When we started counting the Craigflower coho in 1987 we had years as low as eight fish,” said Gary Caton of the Esquimalt Anglers.

Many don’t realize the fish pass through Portage Inlet and run up Craigflower, making it much of the way back to Thetis and Prior lakes, where their water comes from.

For the last four years the anglers have stocked Prior Lake with the brood stock of about 20 males and 20 females, all coho.

“We take them to the hatchery where the fry are and stock them into Prior for a year,” Caton said. The return from about 26,000 eggs was about 900 adult coho that left, hand counted with clipped fins (for marking). Of those, 566 clipped fish came back.

“That’s a phenomenal return,” Caton said.