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Mossom Creek hatchery rising in time for fish spawning

Somewhere out in the Pacific Ocean, thousands of chum and coho salmon are making their way toward creeks and rivers along B.C.'s west coast.

Somewhere out in the Pacific Ocean, thousands of chum and coho salmon are making their way toward creeks and rivers along B.C.'s west coast. They are about to conclude a life cycle so critical to the province's environmental well-being that the salmon are described as a keystone species.

And for the fish headed for Mossom Creek in Port Moody, there will be a special welcome.

Partway up the creek that starts in a wetland near Cypress Lake on Eagle Mountain and ends in Port Moody inlet, there is a flurry of activity. Daily, workers drive in and out of small clearing carrying pipes and steel, concrete and wood.


Some even bring coffee and cranberry scones to support the workers and volunteers re-building a hatchery that burned down last December. Most of the funds for the building have been raised, with just $50,000 still needed for landscaping, furniture, technology and education materials.

But even with most of the money at hand, there is a tight construction schedule to meet, and more money - up to $25,000 annually -needed to pay for electricity, septic maintenance, security and other costs to keep the hatchery running once it's fully operational.

With the fish on the way, the questions remain: Will the hatchery be ready on time? Will there be enough in the fundraising kitty to pay for everything?

Those questions and more will be answered in coming months as The Tri-City News continues its year-long feature series on rebuilding the Mossom Creek Hatchery. Below, the next installment of the Mossom Creek rebuild story.


Below: The rushing Mossom Creek in Port Moody - Kiyoshi Takahashi photo

Mossm Creek

Pat Dennett is dressed nattily as always and is pouring over a binder as thick as a Bible. He is so engrossed, his brow is furrowed, and he looks worried, too.

"Timing is everything to get equipment here. We're going to be in a mad rush," he says, pointing to the work schedule for the Mossom Creek Hatchery rebuild. The detailed document - with line after line of highlighted tasks - is posted on the wall.

Is this a two-storey concrete fish hatchery and education centre he's building or the Trump Tower? The former of course, but there is so much work to do it might as well be a skyscraper.

"It's a huge undertaking. We have a lot to go into the ground before the slab is poured," says the volunteer project manager for the hatchery project, pointing out that remaining work includes installing drains, plumbing and electrical utilities, and then the gravel and insulation before Lafarge shows up with the concrete it's donating.

Then, more work must be done to put up a second floor so the incubation room is ready to take coho and chum salmon that will be stripped of their eggs, which will be stored in heath trays wetted by pumped creek water and raised to create another generation of Mossom salmon.

There is no question the volunteers with Burrard Inlet Marine Enhancement Society, which operates Mossom, have a big job and a fast-approaching deadline to meet if they are to accomplish their goal to get the hatchery operational by November.

Dennett says he has a back-up plan to raise the salmon somewhere else this winter but would prefer not to put it in place.

Still, listening to the rain pouring down, which sounds eerily like the four horses of the apocalypse on a menacing gallop, he says, "We've lost a day."

He is momentarily downcast. Thankfully, inside the warm construction trailer, there is hot Salt Spring Coffee along with homemade scones with butter.

The comfort food takes away some of the stress of the approaching deadline.


Below: BIMES vice-president George Assaf with Sandie Hollick-Kenyon, a Fisheries and Oceans community advisor, walk Mossom Creek, looking for spawning salmon - ZoAnne Morton photo

Mossom Fish study

George Assaf is a Burnaby firefighter. But when he's not at work, he's volunteering for the Mossom Creek Hatchery.

He loves both his jobs.

On a couple of warm, sunny days last week, Assaf, another BIMES volunteer, and representatives from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Pacific Streamkeepers Federation walked up the creek from Port Moody Inlet almost to East Road in Anmore.

They were looking for adult spawners and, finding none, they knew they had a baseline to work on for future counts of coho and chum this spawning season.

But it was during the arduous hike that Assaf learned just how hard the salmon have to work to return to their home creek to spawn.

Some of the water was rough and volunteers had to step on the stones to avoid trampling on the redds, a spawning nest made by the salmon.

"It's a very tiring process, you burn off a lot of calories," Assaf said of the spawning process.

He and his colleagues poked into the dark and shady spaces in the creek looking for spawning salmon. And though they saw no spawners, they did see a lot of coho juveniles that had spawned naturally - a sign that Mossom is healthy and safe for fish, and that last December's fire didn't destroy everything.

The weekly walks will continue throughout the spawning season, depending on the weather and how high the creek is flowing, and Assaf is looking forward to them. Learning about the salmon - where they hide and why they do what they do each year - is an unfolding mystery for Assaf, and he can't wait to get back to the creek.

"It's all fascinating science, really," he said. "It's extremely worth it."


The rain continues to drum on the roof of the construction trailer but one volunteer is heading out into the downpour to sort the plumbing materials for the next stage of construction.

Mel Steemson, a retired power engineer who joined the troupe of BIMES volunteers after hearing about the fire last year, is eager to get back to work. He lives just a short walk away from the hatchery and says the forested tramp each day to Mossom to help Dennett with the job is a way of giving back.

"It keeps me out of trouble, or in trouble," he jokes before slapping on his hard hat and heading out to the rain.

There is no time to waste, said Ruth Foster, a retired School District 43 teacher who co-founded the hatchery with Rod MacVicar. Coho have already been seen nosing their way into nearby Noons Creek and the heavy rains will start bringing in the chum by the end of the month.

As well, volunteers, including members of Centennial secondary school's Salmon Project Club, are set to collect salmon eggs from the Alouette River, which Mossom volunteers will raise in the incubation room if everything goes to plan.

But outside the trailer, the rain-swollen creek roars like thunder, an urgent reminder that nature has its own plan.


On Friday, Oct. 3, the weather is expected to co-operate and, thanks to the efforts of Lafarge and BIMES volunteers, the ground-floor concrete slab is expected to be poured.