Celebrate Millstone River’s salmon side-channel

by Andrew Kolasinski

Nanaimo's Bowen Park, in the centre of town, is the site of a uniquely successful salmon revitalization project that brought together the city, Vancouver Island University, federal Fisheries and Oceans, Nanaimo Fish and Game Association, and a dozen other organizations. The Millstone salmon side-channel has brought spawning coho salmon into the heart of the city.

Saturday, November 20 the city of Nanaimo presents Salute to Coho in Bowen Park, 10 am to 1 pm at Bowen Park Amphitheater. Opening ceremonies will feature a First Nations salmon prayer and drumming, then information about the Millstone side channel, salmon life-cycles, stream life, demonstrations of salmon tagging, and interpretive walks along the bank. Free refreshments will be served.

Geoff Robins from Nanaimo Fish and Game said, “We provided some money and some volunteer labour for the present project. We've been involved since 1970 on the old staircase, and then with the fish pass in 1980.”

Work on the Millstone River salmon side-channel began in 2007. That very year when the project was finished 300-500 coho used the channel to reach their spawning grounds up-river. Estimates predict the Millstone could ultimately support about 30,000 coho.

Ian Matthews, a salmon stock assessment expert with federal Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) said, “It's an artificial stock. Waterfalls were always a barrier. This is the first big year; the third year of the side channel. Coho hatched in the stream will be returning to spawn.”

Students from Vancouver Island University (VIU) have used the side channel as an outdoor classroom. Dr. John Morgan, VIU Professor and Degree Adviser (Resource Management Officer Technology Diploma, and Bachelor of Natural Resource Protection Degree) is involved with university's role in the project. Dr. Morgan said, “Students will be walking the side-channel in Bowen Park to see if the coho spawn there. They will also be monitoring the motion-capture camera in the fish-way in the upper section of the side-channel to count the number of coho that migrate into the upper watershed. And, they will radio-tag and track some of the fish captured in the fish-way to find out where they are spawning.”

There is a new and improved camera in place this year. During the coho migration the motion-activated underwater camera in the fish ladder picks up lots of action. On a typical October day the camera recorded the passing of a dozen coho salmon. Additionally some rainbow trout swam past.

You don't need to be a VIU student to participate and enjoy the side-channel. Dr. Morgan said, “Community members from the local fishing clubs have volunteered on this project in the past and will be helping out this year to track the radio-tagged coho.“

Bernie Hienrichs of Island Waters Fly Fishers said his club is, “Volunteering for the tracking program. Students will be here Mondays through Fridays, we'll be here any other time. We also make sure the grates are cleared of debris.”

Between 300 and 500 coho are expected to spawn in the Millstone River this year. The river has never been a coho stream because the waterfalls (in present day Bowen Park) have always prevented their passage.

Dr. Morgan says, “Providing access for coho to the upper Millstone can be viewed as compensation for the destruction of historical coho streams in this area, many of which have been filled in or culverted over, and may never be recovered or repaired.”

Partners: BC Hydro, Christopher Van Twest, City of Nanaimo, Parks Recreation and Culture, Georgia Basin/Vancouver Island Living Rivers, Ministry of Transportation Environmental Stewardship, Nanaimo Fish and Game Protective Society, Habitat Conservation Trust Fund, Timber-West Forest Corp., Pacific Salmon Commission Southern Endowment Fund, Pacific Salmon Foundation.

Stewardship Partners: Island Water Fly Fishers, Vancouver Island University (Malaspina University College), Nanaimo Fish and Game, Nanaimo Hatchery, Nanaimo Stewardship Society.

Goldstream River side channel

Improved salmon spawning conditions in a channel of the lower Goldstream River near Victoria are the result of a partnership between Tsawout First Nation, DFO, Living Rivers, BC Parks, Pacific Salmon Foundation and the Goldstream Volunteer Salmon Enhancement Association.

Goldstream is a major salmon producing river in the Capital Regional District. A variety of factors, including global climate change, have resulted in changes to the salmon habitat in the Goldstream. Higher winter freshet flows can result in lower egg-to-fry survival in the gravel as a result of scouring, while low summer flows result in less available wetted habitat for juvenile coho and steelhead trout. The partnership replaced the failed intake with an infiltration gallery that will provide a reliable supply of water to the side channel year round.

About 100,000 people visit Goldstream Provincial Park in salmon season.



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