An otter was scooped out of the salmon containment area in the Saanich fish fence during the fall salmon count on Nov. 4 – much to the surprise of volunteers. (Photo courtesy Dorothy Chambers)

An otter was scooped out of the salmon containment area in the Saanich fish fence during the fall salmon count on Nov. 4 – much to the surprise of volunteers. (Photo courtesy Dorothy Chambers)

Otters foil annual salmon count at Saanich fish fence

Seasonal tally ends early with 176 coho passing up Colquitz River to spawn

A family of sneaky otters has forced the annual Colquitz River salmon count in the Cuthbert Holmes Park to end early as volunteers opt to remove the fish fence for the season.

Every fall, the volunteers with Salmon in the City – a project funded by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) – install fish fence panels in the river to temporarily trap salmon that swim through so that the team can monitor the population and collect data for the DFO. In a typical year, volunteers attend the fish fence every day from September to December to assess the age, species, health and sex of the salmon coming up the river to spawn.

READ ALSO: Bright red salmon appear at Saanich’s Colquitz River fish fence

This September, a new trap bottom was installed to keep otters from swimming into the fish containment area because in years past they’d been known to sneak in from underneath to steal salmon, explained volunteer and environmental advocate Dorothy Chambers. She added that while the volunteers were putting in the new bottom, the little predators appeared to be watching and “assessing their next entry plan.”

The first fish of 2020 began to appear in early October and for about three weeks volunteers counted fish – often under the curious gaze of local preschool classes and seniors’ walking groups, Chambers said. However, after less than a month of fish counting and a hard-fought battle against a family of five otters that circled the trap “like sharks,” volunteers have admitted defeat.

READ ALSO: Salmon counters ‘disappointed’ with 119 cohos in Colquitz this season

“The otters have won and they are now entering the trap through the small salmon opening,” she explained, adding that one otter was actually hauled out of the trap in the net used to scoop salmon up for counting on Nov. 4.

“After consultation with the volunteers and DFO, it is clear we must remove the fence panels and give the salmon free access, without the trap to hinder their upstream travels,” Chambers said.

She emphasized that volunteers’ priority is always ensuring that the “urban salmon” are healthy and able to reach their spawning grounds.

READ ALSO: Saanich schoolkids observe salmon dissections in Cuthbert Holmes Park

The fish fence panels were removed on Nov. 6 and the 2020 salmon has ended. The official tally collected by volunteers showed that a total of 176 coho – 126 young males, 22 older males and 28 females – and four cutthroat trout came up the Colquitz River this year, Chambers said.

She thanked volunteers for their tireless work and commitment to the salmon counting project.


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