It rained last weekend, bringing the Alouette River up, and with it, a strong showing of chum salmon.
As I snap pictures of spawners scooping redds in the gravel with their tail fins, a man with a fishing rod approaches.
“Fished this stream before?” I ask.
“Second time for me,” he says. “You live near here?”
“For many years.”
Fish thrash noisily near the shoreline.
The new fisher walks into the water towards them, something a DFO officer would say not to do, but there aren’t any here today.
“Don’t go in there,” I say. “That’s where fish are spawning.”
“OK,” he says, agreeably, and finds a spot on shore with the others, hoping an irritated chum will snap at yellow wool on the end of a hook.
“They probably won’t,” says Arthur Olesliak, of Hatch Match’r Fly and Tackle.
“Fishing is good everywhere – chinook and coho – ” he says, because of net closures, “but you need row.”
Most anglers speak up when they see anything that threatens fish.
Last spring, several sounded the alarm when B.C. Hydro – off ramping water too quickly from Alouette Dam – left fry stranded in pools on Fern Crescent lawns.
Hydro spokesman Rob Harrison, told me then that their crews of fry “salvagers” scoop up the ones they notice and return them to the river, but later agreed to a more credible scenario.
Fishermen on the stream – seeing stranded fry – would again inform Randy Morgan at Hatch Match’r of locations, and this time, he would tell Hydro where its salvagers could find fry before they died.
“Somebody screwed up last time,” said Morgan. “We didn’t have water fluctuations like that before.”
But, he adds, working directly with Harrison fixed that.
“We saw a big difference. We’ll see what happens next spring.”
A vigilant public has been key to the preservation of wild salmon since 1997. DFO monitoring of streams had become so lax by then that the government initiated an Auditor General’s Report that sited its failure to protect the hundreds of “small stock” streams that produce most fry. It recommended DFO refocus on that to sustain the resource.
Instead, it slowly relinquished its duty to volunteer groups while inexplicable holding on to its status as a wild salmon agency.
The latest proof the department is off the rails is its approval of a Port Coquitlam property owner’s application to fill in a section of Maple Creek, even though it’s a coho-rearing stream faithfully mentored by streamkeepers for two decades.
In Maple Ridge, the Alouette River Management Society and Kanaka Environmental Education Program are the groups to promote. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, KEEPS holds Return of the Salmon on Kanaka Creek, just west of 240th Street.
“It’s a chance to meet the fish up close, learn more about them and get involved,” says coordinator, Ross Davies.
A week ago, I joined ARMS and Zo-Ann Morten, of the Pacific Streamkeepers Federation, on Coho Creek. Morten’s group provides training and support to streamkeepers throughout B.C.
We peeked into ideal spots for spawners to rest and hide as they move up stream. We talked about finding females that died without spawning two years ago, black eggs, and some that were completely white, occurrences that experienced fishermen had never seen, but DFO dismissed without adequate investigation.
“We should be on our knees looking at our dead,” said Morten, “because they’ll tell us so much.”
Good advice to all streamkeepers this year.
Finally, this Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Lina Azeez of Watershed Watch and Friends of Katzie Slough hosts another guided canoe tour to let the public learn about this important Pitt Meadows waterway.
I’ll be attending in my own canoe with MP Dan Ruimy in the bow.