Founding member of Campbell River Salmon Foundation Mike Gage, who fought tirelessly for years to see the removal of the dam on the Salmon River between Campbell River and Sayward, says the fish are back in huge numbers much further up the river now that it’s gone.
The Salmon River Diversion facility, removed in 2017, was constructed in the late 1950s to divert water from the waterway through a three-kilometre canal system into Brewster Lake and eventually in the Lower Campbell Reservoir, but fish advocates like Gage have long said the facility hampered salmon migration up an important salmon-spawning river on the coast.
The metal fish screen that was located within the concrete canal and fish ladder at the facility were barriers to efficient salmon migration, BC Hydro admitted before the dam’s removal, but their initial plan was to improve the facility rather than remove it. That plan, however, was abandoned in 2016 after it was determined it would be too costly.
Instead, the entire facility was removed, which Gage says “was one of the biggest things done for fish values in this community in quite some time.”
Gage, now 78 years old, has stepped back from his role with the salmon foundation, as well as with the Campbell River Tyee Club, for which he served as president for 13 years, but he still closely watches the salmon returns and is still as passionate as ever about improving their world.
Gage had been fighting over that river for more than a decade before the decision was finally made to remove the facility on what he calls “one of the most important drainages on the entire Island for fish stocks.”
As happy as Gage was to see the facility removed after all his years of fighting over it, he didn’t expect to see such positive results for the fish so quickly. The dam has been removed for one full year now, and he says it’s wonderful to see the results.
“The coho stocks have already gone up to the 84-kilometre mark in that river now and the steelhead can do that as well,” Gage says. “It’s just fantastic.”
BC Hydro’s Stephen Watson called the diversion’s removal a significant piece in the company’s work over the past few years in terms of salmon habitat improvements in the region, but it’s still too early to say how large the long-term impact will be on fish stocks.
“The first run of coho and chinook would have been in the fall of 2017, so they’ve had two runs now and this spring will be the second run of steelhead,” Watson says, adding that they are monitoring the fish runs and working with local organizations to gather as much information as they can.
Since salmon runs vary greatly from year to year, Watson says, they will need “probably about five years” of data before they can say how significantly the populations have been helped by the dam’s removal.
“It has the potential, I think, to be very good in terms of fish productivity,” Watson says. “The fish could get above the dam prior (to its removal), but now that they have unhindered fish passage, it is only going to bode better for the health of those three fish. We’ll need a few more years to better understand it, but, certainly, it’ll be better than it was.”