Barrie Goodwin

Saanich volunteers have fingers crossed for solid salmon season

Colquitz River fish fence helps stewards monitor returning coho numbers

The arrival of fall brings with it cooler weather and colourful foliage, but for the stewards who oversee the Colquitz River, it also marks the start of salmon season.

A small dedicated crew of volunteers recently installed a fish-counting fence in the river behind Tillicum Centre. The fence allows the stewards to keep a close eye on the coho salmon that will return to Saanich to spawn in the coming months.

“There’s scientific value in knowing what’s migrating up the creek and what’s coming down; that’s why we do the counting. The count results give you an indication of the health of the watershed,” said Chris Bos, a board member with the Colquitz Salmonid Stewardship and Education Society.

For a dozen autumns now, volunteers have visited the counting fence daily as part of their monitoring of the waterway’s health. Stewards not only count the number of fish heading from the Gorge up the river, they identify species and sex, measure each fish and inspect its visual health.

The fence funnels fish into a temporary holding cell, from which volunteers remove them one at a time for counting. They’re then released upstream from the fence.

Since its installation on Oct. 5, the fence hasn’t caught any fish – though volunteers acknowledge it’s still very early in the season. While the water level is still quite low in the Colquitz, Bos said, a few coho made it up the river in late September when the region was hit with heavy rain and wind.

While the number of fish counted each year fluctuates, Bos is cautiously optimistic this will be a good year, which would indicate a relatively healthy creek.

“Last year we had good (coho) returns in the Gorge, Portage Inlet, Craigflower (Creek) and Colquitz. This year should be pretty well the same,” he said. “The reason we can say that is (because) we’ve seen a lot of coho out in the ocean area in Juan de Fuca and off of Victoria. We’re expecting a pretty good return.”

Since fall 2011, stewards have played a much more prominent role in monitoring the health of the creek, as multiple home heating oil spills and leaks have hit the Colquitz during salmon spawning season. While short-term impacts were felt in the form of some adult salmon turning up dead, there’s still no indication what the long-term impacts will be on the Colquitz’s health.

While those risk factors remain, work on the Craigflower and Johnson Street bridges create other possible hazards for marine species that inhabit area waters.

“Those projects could pose potential difficulties for the fish, but I know that both (projects) are being undertaken under the supervision of consultants and fish biologists,” Bos said. “Right now there are fish returning – there are potential dangers for them – but there’s nothing as bad as an oil spill going on at this stage.”

To check out the fish fence, walk along the trails in Cuthbert Holmes Park right behind Tillicum Centre. It’s located alongside the pedestrian footbridge.

kslavin@saanichnews.com