MOSSOM CREEK: From classroom to creek to a business: ‘We solve problems’
Adam Lewis has always had a passion for fishing, hiking and the outdoors.
So when the Grade 11 Centennial secondary student heard his school was launching the Salmon Project, a fisheries enhancement program at Port Moody’s Mossom Creek, he was one of the first to sign up.
That was in 1976.
Fast-forward 38 years and the biologist is now the president and owner of Ecofish Research, a Courtenay-based environmental assessment and impact mitigation company he launched in 2000 (see sidebar). Lewis says he owes much of where he is today to his early experiences with his high school’s ecology club.
“We solve environmental problems,” he says of his company. “It’s really not a whole lot different than what we were doing at Mossom.”
The problem Lewis and his Salmon Project club members faced back in the 1970s was a creek system without any fish. But with Centennial biology instructors and Mossom Creek Hatchery founders Ruth Foster and Rod MacVicar, the students were able to lay a foundation that has helped make Mossom Creek a vibrant ecosystem.
They started collecting information on the creek, taking the water temperature and examining its turbidity. Incubation boxes were eventually built and a few thousand chum salmon eggs from the Fraser River were released into the system.
“They really challenged us to come up with our own ideas,” Lewis says. “It was more than just a course. It was a real-life opportunity to deal with a system and see what people can do to help the salmon.”
There were some early setbacks.
When developers began building homes above Mossom on April Road in 1977, sediment from the construction ended up in the creek, wiping out most of the eggs.
Lewis was the first person to spot the trouble and even testified when hatchery supporters took the company to court.
“I didn’t know what I was doing or I probably would have been nervous,” he says.
The hatchery supporters ended up losing the lawsuit.
At the time it was launched, the Fisheries Act did not include the protection of fish eggs, says MacVicar, a hatchery founder.
The regulations have since been changed to now include the protection of fish eggs and he believes the alterations were a result of the lawsuit his group helped launch.
“I like to think that it is because of us,” MacVicar says.
Lewis is not the only Salmon Project alum who has gone on to work in habitat protection. About 36 students a year join the club, with some travelling from outside the school’s catchment area to take part in the program.
MacVicar and fellow biology teacher Foster also designed two classes in 1993 — Wildlife of B.C. 11 and Fish and Wildlife 12 — that use Mossom Creek in its course work.
The hands-on experience students get has helped many move on to successful careers in fisheries, habitat protection and environmental sustainability, MacVicar says.
“It is educational but it is also here to inspire and guide,” he says. “With that education comes knowing and protecting.”
MacVicar retired from teaching in 2000 and Foster followed in 2005 but the two are still very active Mossom Creek volunteers.
These days, however, much of the day-to-day work of running Centennial’s Salmon Project falls to Melanie Mattson, a science teacher at the school.
Her father, Jim, was heavily involved in the program and she has now taken the reins, teaching, preparing the course work and even driving the bus between the school and the creek every Wednesday.
Mattson teaches Wildlife of BC 11 and Fish and Wildlife 12, and says the courses are still popular.
When the hatchery burned down in December, students were devastated, she says. But most are now looking at ways they can help rebuild.
Several club members are trying to organize a Mossom 2.0 t-shirt campaign to raise money for the construction of a new facility while others are working to fix pot holes on the road up to the hatchery property.
As it always has, the Salmon Project continues to put many of the decisions in the hands of the students, Mattson says.
Despite the fact the hatchery is no longer standing, the club members are just as enthusiastic about participating in the Salmon Project, she adds.
“These students are committed,” she says. “Even though there is no physical hatchery, they are committed to caring for the fish and are keen to do hatchery work.”