Showers a big boost to spawning fish

News Story: Carla Wilson, Times Colonist
© Copyright 2002 Times Colonist re-printed with permission

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Showers a big boost to spawning fish

The rain came just in time for many thousands of late-run spawning salmon facing low rivers and dried-up creeks from this summer's drought.

Fish are pouring into Vancouver Island rivers restored to a healthy water level.

All the precipitation lately brought the salmon back "in a very, very big way," says Ed Lochbaum, the federal Fisheries Department's south coast area chief for fisheries management.

The department uses several Island streams, plus two on the Lower Mainland, as indicators to evaluate the state of the late-run spawning runs."We have met or exceeded escapement targets," on all these rivers for chum stocks, Lochbaum said from Nanaimo on Thursday. Escapement is the number of fish that reach their home river to spawn.

CREDIT: Debra Brash, Times Colonist

Bob Inouye, visiting from Yakima, Washington, takes a photograph of salmon spawning at Goldstream Park. With all the rainfall over the past couple of weeks rivers have filled up just in time for the returning fish.

Early estimates put the number of chum returning at 30,000 on the Big Qualicum River. Now it looks as though 140,000 made it back.

It's still a little early for the coho tallies but those are looking good as well, Lochbaum said.

Salmon were backed up in the Strait of Georgia early this month, waiting for rain that would send them back into fresh water to spawn.

Those that made it into rivers battled for the little space available to make their nests in the gravel. Lower Vancouver Island went through the driest April through October period in many decades.

Then the rain starting falling, just what fisheries managers and hatchery workers had been rooting for.

In October, just 18 mm of rain fell at the Sooke reservoir, which is 11 per cent of normal precipitation. So far this month, 199 mm has fallen, representing 78 per cent of the normal rainfall.

Areas of exposed gravel in the region's rivers are covered now, and will become nesting sites.

"We did have a bit of pre-spawning mortality in a couple of streams but to a very small degree," Lochbaum said.

Fisheries managers had been particularly worried about salmon runs in the Interior, but the rain saved those runs too.

A visit to Goldstream River two weeks ago showed low water and exposed gravel that would normally be under water and used as prime nesting spots. Chum were packed three deep in one area.

The scene was far different on Wednesday where fast-moving higher water provided far more room for the spawners. Gravel is under water and fish were spawning in areas that had been high-and-dry a few weeks ago.

At one time it appeared that the Goldstream chum escapement would be about 15,000 to 20,000. Now those numbers are likely to double, Lochbaum said.

Despite the break in the rain Wednesday, there's a 60 per cent chance of rain today. Sunny periods are forecast through to Sunday.

© Copyright 2002 Times Colonist (Victoria)
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