Pink Salmon on the Run Again in Nile Creek, Vancouver Island
Bowser, BC -
Tales of salmon, so abundant in BC rivers that you could walk across their backs, are long over. In fact, once replete with salmon, some rivers in BC saw no fish returning. But thanks to the decades-long efforts by a Vancouver Island-based society, there?s at least one river where the death knell has been silenced, and the river once again runs with pink salmon and cutthroat trout.
?I?ve seen it happen - things were dead, the fish were gone?but there?s been a change,? recounts Carolyn Graeme, owner of Shady Shores Beach Resort in Bowser. ?I tell people you can now fish from your doorstep because you literally can. You can strap on your hip waders, walk out in to the ocean and start fly fishing ? the fish are back.?
It wasn?t a freak act of nature or magic that has seen Nile Creek start to approach the kind of productivity it once enjoyed, but through donated money and hard work by the Nile Creek Enhancement Society (NCES), a group of volunteers dedicated to bringing life back to what once was dead.
?We knew that to be successful we?d have to work from mountain to ocean to restore habitat at every stop,? explains NCES president Ken Kirkby. ?We had to undo what our species had managed to destroy if we were ever to see fish return again.?
Kirkby says that Nile Creek was originally referred to as the Pink River for the record numbers of pink salmon that returned to it every year. It originates 18 km north of Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island and empties out into Qualicum Bay near Bowser. Uncommonly cold and clean water, unlike any place on Vancouver Island, led to pink salmon returns the highest ever recorded. In the 1990?s that number had been decimated.
The group was originally told restoration couldn?t be done. It would mean recreating spawning conditions of a now changed river. It would mean replanting the shorelines with eelgrass and replanting kelp forests that had disappeared in the local marine waters ? both of which was said ?couldn?t be done?.
?Some of the provincial and federal people who work in the field do great work ? if I could give them sainthoods I would,? says Kirkby. ?Now together we have a project that, so far, nine different countries have sent representatives to, so they can adopt this model where they live.? Two anglers show up their daily catch, some feisty pink salmon.
Volunteers, together with some ?skillful advice?, about $600,000 in privately raised funding and over 15 years of work, have restored the river ecosystem. They began the process of working with the Quinsam River Hatchery, based in Campbell River to get pink salmon eggs for the Nile Creek hatchery, which swim down Nile Creek as fry in the spring. Last year, over 124,000 pink salmon returned to the river to spawn.
The food produced by the carcasses of the spawned salmon have created the fertile ground for returning cutthroat trout (also a salmonid species) that rely upon the food source to thrive through the winter. That has also brought back something that had nearly become extinct as well ? fishers and new business.
?In the late summer and early fall, you can go out and see people in hip waders fly fishing in the shallows and the mouth of the river. They come from all over the world, and you haven?t seen that in decades,? says Kirby. ?Those fishers bring business to this area in a positive way instead of taking from it.
?We have a motto in the NCES ? that no endeavor, large or small, can thrive in the long run without a community, and building a community is the responsibility of everyone. We have really formed a community here.?
The NCES has plans for the restoration and remediation of six more rivers on Vancouver Island.
Source: Jamie Gripich, Director of Seasmoke PR for Oceanside Tourism Association