Rain opens spawning grounds

Salmon that had been waiting to go upstream get a rainy break

The heavy rain on the weekend came as good news for local salmon stocks which have been barred from their spawning grounds by low water levels.

Department of Fisheries and Oceans biologist Greg Thomas said the lack of rain in August and September led to unusually low flow levels in many Island waterways, but he said it’s too early to determine how much of a long-term impact the skimpy water levels will have.

“There are so many factors at play, it’s difficult to say whether a situation like this will actually reduce their productivity,” he said. “I think that there are some circumstances on the Island where some streams without lakes at the head of them had the streambeds dry up and there were losses of fry and smolts in those systems. That’s going to cause a problem.”

As well, he added, Chinook salmon in the Cowichan River could well be impacted.

“Their migration was certainly delayed, to the point where we took the step of moving fish up river to get them into the pools,” Thomas said. “There could be some mortality from that and there likely will be some impact.”

Thomas stressed however that while low water levels of this nature are unusual, there’s no need to panic.

“I think it falls within a natural variation,” Thomas said. “It’s not like we haven’t seen conditions like this before — although this is extreme.”

Currently, he said, both Chinook and Coho salmon are moving up Island rivers.

Meanwhile, he said both the troll and sein fleets are on the hunt for chum salmon, with a fishery open on the west coast.

“We generally fish chum from October to November,” Thomas said. “There are fisheries on the inside at ohnston Strait, mid-Vancouver Island and the Fraser River. The troll fishery has caught about 240,000 fish. There’s a second gillnet fishery ongoing now and there will be another towards the latter part of the month.”

Overall, he said, the chum salmon season looks good.

“It’s not a bad season,” he said. “The general indication is we have a reasonable abundance. We don’t currently have a season estimate of the run size but we are confident we are getting a decent return.”