Where’s the fish? Early returns for South Island salmon show ‘doom and gloom’

Where’s the fish? Early returns for South Island salmon show ‘doom and gloom’

‘It’s a wall of gill nets out there,’ says hatchery volunteer

Travis Paterson

Saanich News

Barring a miracle, officials are saying the number of returning salmon to South Island spawning grounds will be ‘a disaster’ for 2017.

Numbers are down to 300 in the Colquitz River, 16 coho and chinook in Goldstream, to about 150 coho up at Fanny Bay’s Rosewall Creek. It’s possible the heavy rains, which have flooded and muddied the rivers, could be hiding hundreds, maybe thousands of fish in the many South Island spawning grounds. But it’s unlikely.

And the implications are even worse, says Gary Caton of the Esquimalt Anglers.

“It’s doom and gloom,” said Caton, looking ahead to the typical coho three-year spawning cycle. “This reflects on the 2020 returns.”

Goldstream has been hit the worst, with just 12 cohos and two chinooks to date. Colquitz’s 302 is mostly coho but compared to 1,100 at this time last year, it’s not good.

Same goes at Craigflower, where Caton reports 425 fish, mostly coho, but had reason to expect as much as 1,500 to 2,000.

In Craigflower and Colquitz the number of jacks, or two-year-old coho, is high relative to the number of adults. Both had nearly 200.

“Nature sends the jacks in early to [help increase the spawn] and it can indicate a good year next year,” Caton said.

Coho are known to trickle in as late as January but even with the high waters and muddied rivers, it’s worrisome, said Judy Ackinclose, president of both the Goldstream Hatchery and Fanny Bay Enhancement project (Rosewall Creek).

“At this point we’ve had such torrential downpours, it’s been such a flood you can’t see anything,” Ackinclose said. “To get the stream keepers in the river for counts is non-existent, the river is high and it’s running chocolate, you can’t see any fish.”

The hope is once the rains abate, the rivers will reveal heavier than normal counts of fish, and carcasses.

What’s disheartening in the Goldstream River is the aggressive commercial fishery, with gill nets in the Satellite Channel approach waters of Saanich Inlet, said biologist Peter McCully, a director with the Goldstream hatchery.