SEHAB Member: Cindy Verbeek (Gord Wadley – Alternate)

Area: Upper Skeena

Community Advisor: Brenda Donas

Date: February 19, 2016

Key Issues:

What top three points can you distill from community input to take to DFO RHQ?

1. Concern over a vacant CA position in September both wrt a presence in our communities as well as the budget that goes along with that position – will we lose both? What will happen? We can not lose either a presence or the budget – we are already spread too thin.

2. Climate change – are we just documenting the demise? Is UBR is being written off because it’s a small watershed. No budget to research and adapt to climate change in the watershed.

3. Lack of legislation and funding allocation for habitat protection and restoration in the watershed. Concern over unrestricted and/or irresponsible development in the area and further down the way that will affect our salmon stocks – ie. Enbridge pipeline (and others), Lelu island etc. Key issue – lack of legislation and human resources for enforcement around sustainable development that is healthy for the community and the watershed

Stories:

A few examples of successes, failures, challenges.

Mission creek – DFO doesn’t seem to want to find a solution or put money towards to a solution to the access issue. Chicago Creek Society now traps fish & transports them above a culvert but ideally it would be best to get rid of the culvert somehow and let the fish get there themselves. A major concern remains the ability of a shrinking number of volunteers to continue the trap and transport program on which the survival of coho in the watershed depends.  At this time, there is no projected date for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to replace the culvert under Highway 16 which resulted in the demise of coho in the watershed.

Toboggan creek continue to be frustrated by an unchanged budget in 30 years even though prices of fish food, tagging etc has gone up.

Steelhead society – Frustrated with the lack of human resources and ability to enforce commercial infractions on bycatch of Steelhead. Will be writing a request for commercial fisherman to be charged using a ticketing system not an automatic court hearing to make it easier to get infractions charged and a better use of the human resources.

Upper Bulkley Watershed Climate Change Monitoring Program has brought together staff from BC Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Wet’suwet’en First Nations, DFO and volunteers from A Rocha Canada – Houston Streamkeepers. The program is collecting new baseline information in the UBR watershed with an end objective of having water licenced for fish. UBR – 21 degrees during lowest water which is coho spawning migration time. Climate change is having a huge effect on this already impacted system.

UBR Hatchery – Working with the CA is still incredibly challenging. There is a lack of recognition that volunteers are knowledgeable and a tendency to take over. Technical support and training from the CA is excellent. Community engagement has been high although there remains several who do not support the project and have been very vocal about it. Just over 5,000 coho were recently ponded into a recirculation system to be released around Earth Day April 22nd. This project is capturing the imagination of the community providing a positive activity amidst continued bad news with the sawmill shut down and now Huckleberry mine as well. Fish, and particularly salmon, are the language of this community and resonate with everyone regardless of financial or social status.

Issues Specific to SEHAB’s Work Plan:

SEHAB Work Plan

Local Issue, Specific  Examples

Actions by Community or DFO

SEHAB Opportunity

Wild Salmon Policy (Stock Assessment, Habitat)

Lack of enforcement of the wild salmon policy.

Lack of finanical and personell resources for stock assesment and habitat restoration.

 

Solicit gov to provide adequate resources to conservation and protection to enforce what laws are already there and strengthen the wild salmon policy to protect habitat.

Solicit gov to back SEP programs with the financial and personaell resources to do the job well.

Aquaculture

Previous history in the area has made communication between hatcheries non-existent causing a lack of overarching plan and fragmented activity.

Attempts at communication and collaboration by volunteer groups.

 

Capacity & Core Funding

No human or financial resources for overarching supervision and plan in the watershed.

Volunteers working on a shoe string budget spending lots of human resources on trying to find funding for projects and then still not being able to pay staff or operational expenses.

Looking for pockets of funding to cover core operations

 

Solicit gov to maintain and enhance CA positions and capabilities especially with pending retirement of new CA in Sept.

Submissions, Comments from Groups:

Greig Houlden

Chicago Creek Society

Stream Rehabilitation Work

With financial support from PSF, the Society was able to successfully install rock formations near the mouth of Mission Creek to enhance complexity of water flow and (hopefully) capture gravel which was being washed out of upstream spawning beds by high water events.  Plans to clean silt from spawning beds in Waterfall Creek had to be delayed due to lack of permission from BC Environment within the approved work window.  The Society plans to complete work on the project in the next available work window, with the approval of PSF.  Some re-positioning of initial rock placements in Mission Creek may also be required, due to impact of a high water event likely triggered by CN removal of beaver dams upstream.

Coho Trap and Transport Program

The Society had another successful year with its Mission Creek Trap and Transport program.  A total of 469 adult coho were counted through the fence and trap, with 256 of these being transported to Waterfall Creek in New Hazelton to spawn.  Numbers were slightly higher than projected and returns occurred slightly earlier than expected, possibly due to weather and favourable stream flow.  Next year is projected to be a ‘low return year’, so it remains to be seen whether the run can be sustained on a ‘natural spawn’ basis, or whether a return to small-scale enhancement might be necessary to maintain the stock in the event of unfavourable ocean survival or other negative events.  A major concern remains the ability of a shrinking number of volunteers to continue the trap and transport program on which the survival of coho in the watershed depends.  At this time, there is no projected date for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to replace the culvert under Highway 16 which resulted in the demise of coho in the watershed.

Brenda Donas – CA

Successes

         Upper Bulkley River Coho Hatchery – pilot program is working well and to date survival rates are very good. Currently installing equipment for the rearing part of the hatchery. NOTE: incubation and rearing systems are on a recirculation water supply. Hatchery is housed in a 10”X10” shed and operates on 30 amps of electricity. Excellent group of volunteers – high level of capacity and enthusiasm. BMP training is occurring with each new phase of the salmon life cycle.

         Greig and Jacque Houlden of the Chicago Creek Community Environmental Enhancement Society have retired from their positions of Secretary and Treasurer. We did a recognition dinner and provided them with wonderful thank-you gifts and speeches. They will remain members of the Society.

         Upper Bulkley Watershed Climate Change Monitoring Program has brought together staff from BC Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Wet’suwet’en First Nations, DFO and volunteers from A Rocha Canada –Houston Streamkeepers. The program is collecting new baseline information in the UBR watershed with an end objective of having water licenced for fish.

         DFO relationship with Lake Babine Nation is being strengthened through collaboration with Community Involvement Program and Resource Restoration staff – focusing on Babine wild sockeye stocks. Climate change monitoring program starting in the Babine and there is interest in a Babine Wild Sockeye Recovery Plan.

Concerns

         Impacts of climate change are upon us yet there is no dedicated DFO funding to specifically address freshwater impacts to salmon

         Program-wide budget deficits

         Staffing issues – filling vacant CA positions (including retirements in 2016), difficulty in hiring processes for Casual, Terms.

Challenges

         Lack of support for staff to be creative and try new things eg. Recirculation systems for small scale enhancement facilities – especially where low flows and water levels and higher water temperatures are becoming an issue.

         Lack of communication of Regional priorities to areas outside of Vancouver/Lower Mainland

         Changes to pay systems, travel systems etc… - lots of changes in a very short period of time without training and support to see staff through those changes.

Thanks for the opportunity to make some comments.

Gord Wadley in email communications re the helpfulness of citizen science and the need to stop Lelu Island development - triggered by an article about Snake River – (not specific to SEHAB but helpful comments about the state of the watershed.)

Cindy,

The little Bulkley is one river where we do have info on CK escapements, at least back during TCES involvement, and the Morice R is not too far behind. TCES has carried out works on the Morice for CK in the past, and tagged enhancement releases, but the project was dropped due to lack funds supposedly, and our most recent application to PSF refused because of lack of CK & Steelhead interaction info which is frustrating.  

Kispiox, Babine, Sustut may still get a fly by with a heli but the escapement estimates are not solid and are NEVER put into context of historical run sizes. We are generally treated to vague statements such as “3rd highest escapement in past 2 decades…” or Low, moderate and never high”, again never in proper context. CK were brought back from the brink on the Kispiox during SEP years and with reductions in catch on the coast but are definitely sliding down again in the past two cycles.

Pinks are declining rapidly in Kispiox and Kitwanga rivers compared to run strengths in even my time, although Morice, which never had pinks before the Motown fishways and now has runs of pinks, but it took them 50 years to emigrate up there. Chum returns have been a shadow of the numbers in Kispiox and Kitwanga R. in the past 40 years and at THAT time they were estimated at about 30% of historical. Will we get some of these runs back? Probably not, but we should certainly not let them be extirpated through development in critical habitats such as the estuary. i.e. LeLu Island

These issues are always there, have always been there in my time, they need more public awareness and pressure on Fisheries managers locally and regionally. Citizen science can provide analog information on stocks, spawning locations etc. but it would take cessation of all fishing pressure or enhancement with marking and proper assessment to tell the tale AND turn the tide. Over much of the Skeena some duties have been passed to FN’s, or arm’s length conservation organizations, DFO staff levels have been cut, long term bio’s are almost all gone so there is no collective memory of days gone by….. Everyone, agencies included, conservation organizations, FN’s are all "hat in hand" with philanthropist groups for monies to do random works and where does all that info, science, or citizen science come back to ground? I’m not sure, there does not appear to be a central responsible agency at this time.

I’m sure the Snake River’s history is just as complex, political and literally damning, but they were consistent, focused and yes they did enhance. They also had public pressure from a large population, and access to money to tackle some of the issues related to fish and fish access, and there were court cases.

Cindy Verbeek – A Rocha Canada’s Bulkley Valley Project

 BR Streamkeepers

-       streamkeepers activity has been quiet over the winter with the river being under snow but people who volunteered for streamkeepers last summer have rallied around the coho hatchery.

-       Grant funding has been submitted to get two helicopter overflights during low water period to map beaver dams and determine their impact on spawning coho migration.

Pilot coho hatchery

-       6,000 eggs were taken from 2 females and 2 male coho

-       To date there is over a 90% survival rate from egg to fry

-       The hatchery is housed in a 10x10 shed on private property for now. Hopes are to move it to a more permanent location in the summer of 2016. We have received funding from the Bulkley Valley Credit Union as well as Goldcorp that should cover most of the cost of preparing the new location and moving the building.

-       One volunteer has been key in building the recirculation system and we are so thankful for his contribution and the many many hours he has put into building the system designed by DFO’s CA.

-       At present a reservoir tank is filled with town water, allowed to off gas chlorine and then is used to fill a recovery tank with water. This water then runs through a sand filter, chiller, UV sterilizer and Biofilter before it is recirculated through the rearing tank (and previously recirculate through the heath trays).

-       This hatchery has captured the imagination of this community and has been crucial in bringing watershed stewardship back into the forefront after a falling out in the early 2000’s between DFO and several key volunteers on the fish fence project.

Nature Centre Proposal

-       Funding applications have been submitted to build a nature centre that would not only house the hatchery but also have environmental education activities for schools, groups and visitors, displays, a small office, storage room and a wheelchair accessible bathroom. This would be a hub for both hatchery operations but more importantly community engagement around watershed stewardship, streamkeepers activities, habitat restoration etc.

-       The local government (District of Houston) has committed to providing a location for this building.

Finding core funding for coordination of these activities remains a huge issue.