October 12, 2012

The Rain is Whispering ‘The Salmon are Coming’

As I sit here this evening listening to the rain outside my home-office window, I feel a little thrill of excitement. Because after a long dry spell, the rain means salmon will start moving upstream to spawn, including in the creek beyond our back fence -- Byrne Creek in SE Burnaby.

We have two species of salmon in our urban creek, chum and coho, and if there is rain, they return from the Pacific  Ocean and start their final journey like clockwork, arriving in our creek within a few days of mid-October each fall, and continue as late as mid-December.

It's a bittersweet time of year -- sweet because the salmon bring with them seeds for new life, and bitter for it means their own deaths.

As streamkeepers, we'll start patrolling the spawning reaches of the creek, getting out at least three times a week, to enumerate the numbers of spawners, and their species, sex, and size. After they die, we measure them, cut them open to check on spawning success, and then cut them in half (so we don't double-count any) and return their carcasses to the waters, for they bear in their flesh nutrients from the ocean that help sustain a multifaceted food web.

The salmon in Byrne Creek are also an affirmation that we, humans, can turn things around and undo some of the environmental damage we've done. Decades ago Byrne Creek was dead. Cut off from the Fraser River, it was devoid of fish. Then the City of Burnaby cut a new channel in the lower reach and installed gates that move with the tides. Volunteers and Fisheries and Oceans Canada began re-stocking the creek with chum and then coho, and cutthroat trout also repopulated the waterway.

It's an ongoing struggle with numerous pollution events poisoning the creek over the years through street drains, but given clean water, the salmon do come back, they do spawn successfully, and their progeny do hatch in the spring. This cycle of life is a sight to behold in our urban area.

Some of the fish that will be arriving soon were hatchery raised and released by schoolchildren a few years ago. Some were born in the creek, and are coming home. All will do their best to plant the eggs and seed for a new generation, and then die.

Welcome back.

Posted by Paul at October 12, 2012 07:50 PM