Nile Creek is jammed, absolutely stuffed, but Ken Kirkby couldn’t be happier.
Kirkby, president of the Nile Creek Enhancement Society, said this week the creek has seen a stellar return of pink salmon this year, with numbers approaching the best ever recorded.
That’s a big change from the Nile Creek of 20 years ago, he said, when the pink salmon run was virtually non-existent.
“This is deemed the best small river restoration anywhere,” Kirkby said. “It was a dead river 20 years ago and now it is back to the same level t used to be when Europeans first came here.”
Kirkby said more than 100,000 fish are expected to battle their way up the river.
The dramatic change in small the Bowser waterway didn’t come easily, as the enhancement society embarked on a campaign to restore not just part of the creek, but all of it, from the falls seven kilometres upstream right down to the bottom of the estuary.
“We found ways of restoring things that were comparatively inexpensive, low tech and backbreaking, the exact opposite of everything that’s going on in the world today,” he said. “Now the Europeans are sending officials to see how we do it.”
Kirkby said the group originally wanted to raise cutthroat trout in the creek, but were advised that the trout would likely look after themselves if they were able to bring back the pink salmon run. This prediction, he said, appears to be coming true.
“Nature doesn’t waste,” he said. “Those fish that don’t spawn get eaten by other creatures. The point of having the pink salmon is that once they’ve spawned, they put nitrogen and phosphorous in the river and that’s what feeds the coho and cutthroat trout while they’re growing up in the river. Salmon are essentially conveyor belts for moving nitrogen and phosphorous from the ocean and up the river.”
With Nile Creek at the point where, at least in one spot, one could literally walk across the creek on the backs of the pink salmon, Kirkby and his team of 50 Nile Creek Enhancement Society colleagues have more ambitious plans — to restore salmon runs in streams across the entire Salish Sea.
“The first thing we need to do is monitor the conditions in the ocean and the rivers,” he said. “We need to study those rivers that are most restorable and start there — simply repeating the general idea of what we have done in Nile Creek, with modifications each might require. The details might change, but the principles underlying it are all the same.”