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MOSSOM CREEK: Salmon monitoring continues this spring

Volunteers take part in a fall chum egg take to provide stock for the Mossom Creek hatchery. A rebuilding effort is now underway to replace the hatchery and education centre, which burned down in December. - SUBMITTED PHOTO
Volunteers take part in a fall chum egg take to provide stock for the Mossom Creek hatchery. A rebuilding effort is now underway to replace the hatchery and education centre, which burned down in December.
— image credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO

George Assaf considers himself more of a science geek than a sensitive guy but even he understood why his wife cried when she watched the spectacle of the coho returning to Mossom Creek one autumn.

“It was such a beautiful effort,” he said, recalling the experience of seeing the fish jump, push and wriggle their way upstream over rocks and other obstacles to spawn in the gravel shoals of the Port Moody creek.

Today, Assaf has more prosaic concerns as he ponders the future of the hatchery as it rebounds from December’s devastating fire. The blaze wiped out an entire year of chum, coho and pink stocks, when 120,000 chum eggs, 54,000 pink eggs and 4,500 coho eggs packed in their heath trays were destroyed. What should have been a good base for salmon returns went up in smoke.

What’s more, about 1,300 coho smolts from 2012 that would have helped to stock the creek for 2016 were killed as well. The second blow occurred in January, when sediment blocked a pipe carrying water from the creek into one of two coho tanks. It was quickly fixed by a dedicated team of hatchery volunteers and Fisheries and Oceans Canada workers, and 4,400 smolts were saved, but the destruction could result in fewer coho returning in the future.

FUTURE FOR SALMON

The question now is: What’s next?

Mossom Hatchery Project Logo

For Assaf, who has been volunteering with the Burrard Inlet Marine Enhancement Society (BIMES) for almost three years, the answer is simple: Keep going. Build it back up again. Start anew.

“Right now, were looking at not being able to have the hatchery up and running this fall,”  he said.  “If we have low numbers [of naturally returning salmon], we’d be looking at putting up a temporary hatchery so we have some healthy stocks, and to be able to do some coho and chum this year.”

Assaf said volunteers will be combing the creeks this spring looking for coho and chum fry, and again later this summer to check on the 2012 coho smolts to see how well the naturally occurring salmon are doing. Low numbers would likely convince volunteers to set up the temporary hatchery to avoid two years of poor returns.

TEMPORARY MEASURES

“We’re meaning to keep busy,” Assaf said, “We’re still feeding the 2012 coho that we’ve got on site and we have people coming up every day to check on them, to clean the tanks and feed them.”

BIMES has a temporary trailer donated by the city of Port Moody to act as headquarters and, in addition to planning to rebuild the hatchery, there’s still work to be done on the creek to make sure its in good shape for the salmon, such as building new weirs to create more places for the fish to spawn.

Another disappointment from the fire is the loss of the pink eggs. This would have been the first year the group would have released pink salmon fry into the creek in the hopes of bringing back the species; now, the project will have to wait another two years.

Still, Assaf is optimistic the salmon will rebound. After all, numbers have been improving in recent years, likely due to the work of BIMES volunteers.

“If we have decent numbers,” he said, “it’s a good sign that we are augmenting the natural system in a way that’s helping it.”

To contribute, visit www.mossmcreek.org and click on the Donate Now button

dstrandberg@tricitynews.com

 

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