Roundtable Report Salmon Enhancement and Habitat Advisory Board
June 9th and 10th, 2007
Steelhead Society of BC
SEHAB Member - Eric Carlisle
Over the last several months, the plight of Capilano steelhead has received some favourable publicity. Mark Angelo, with media in tow, showed up at Capilano Salmon Hatchery on April 10, the Tuesday following the Easter weekend. On this day, the otter fence had just been pulled from the fish ladder and 14 WSH swam up the ladder (although plenty of WSH had been in the river for over two months, only one had been seen in the fish ladder prior to April 10); some of these fish were visible in the viewing areas and appeared in the TV coverage. During his TV interview, Angelo discussed some of the problems facing Capilano steelhead. Of particular note is the high (60-70% at best, 90% or higher at worst) casualty rate of steelhead smolts dropping over the spillway. Although not mentioned, coho smolts face a similar situation.
While adult steelhead are not transported to the upper watershed, Capilano Hatchery staff plant fry surplus to their production requirements. Generally, the steelhead which migrate up the fish ladder are hatchery fish, and these adults provide the eggs for the fry program. Wild WSH adults are captured by angling (by me) and transported to the hatchery; their eggs are used for the smolt program. Only the rare wild WSH swims up the fish ladder. Adult coho (up to 5,000 a year) are trucked to the upper river and released; these fish spawn naturally in the creeks. But, like the steelhead smolts, the coho smolts must pass over the spillway on their way downstream to the sea. The total drop is in the order of 300 feet. At first glance, one might think that smolts can drop over anywhere across the width of the spillway. Actually, at the top end of the lake the river enters flowing toward the west side, so smolts tend to follow the west shoreline as they migrate downstream and drop over the west side (in all probability, the west foot or two) of the spillway. In recent years, a rock pile has built up at the base of the west side of the spillway, and at certain flows the water comes off the ski jump and plunges directly into these rocks rather than into a plunge pool. Hence the high casualty rates for downstream migrating smolts.
Last week, I forwarded to SEHAB members the news release from Ralph Sultan, MLA for West Vancouver-Capilano and Chair of the provincial government’s Steelhead Caucus. Recently, members of the Steelhead Caucus visited Cleveland Dam with Mark Angelo and had a first hand look at the problem. The news release also mentioned some of the other problems facing Capilano steelhead—lack of gravel recruitment, cold water releases downstream from the dam, low flows, etc. Last Saturday morning, Sultan appeared on the local community channel and discussed the problems facing Capilano steelhead. This program also showed Sultan speaking in the Legislature about Capilano steelhead. Quoting an article in the Globe and Mail, he may have given incorrect figures (fry plants may reach 40,000 plus; there is no way that 65,000 steelhead smolts move down the Capilano and over the spillway); however, the concept he was discussing is absolutely correct—the high casualty rate for smolts dropping over the spillway. Anyway, I hope that all this publicity will have some effect on the GVRD and that the required money will be spent to alleviate the problems facing Capilano steelhead and salmon.
From what I heard, south coast WSH returns generally were up. An exception appeared to be the Squamish system and especially the Cheakamus. In these rivers the major floods of October, 2003, impacted the survival of steelhead juveniles. Last I heard this year’s steelhead smolt program on the Cheakamus still had several adults to go to reach the desired 10 males and 10 females. In the North Shore rivers (where I did almost all of my WSH fishing), there definitely were increases in the returns, but the majority of the fish were of hatchery origin. While wild WSH were present, they were a minority.
Interestingly, at Capilano the hatchery component of the WSH run exhibited something unusual—approximately two males returned for every female. Usually, the population is about 50/50 males and females (this is what happened with the wild population) or there is an edge of females over males. In a hatchery population, some smolts residualize after release and most of these residuals are males; hence the greater number of females. Who knows, next year it may be two females to every male.
I think most of you are aware that last month, 20,000 steelhead smolts were released into the Cheakamus. While most of these smolts were released into the Cheekye up past the Outdoor School reaches of the river, some were released into the upper section of the anadromous fish section of the Cheakamus. Hopefully, returning adults will help seed the Cheakamus and rebuild the steelhead year classes depleted by CN’s caustic soda spill on August 5, 2005.
While occasional coho were reported being caught in the Capilano in late April early May, I didn’t see any until May 12.
For several weeks this very early component of the run was disappointing—only the odd coho here and there—but some numbers have been showing for the last week and a half.
It is too early in the run to draw any conclusions about how coho are surviving this year.
However, various indications—research in Georgia Strait last summer-fall by Dick Beamish, and increased jack coho returns to the hatcheries in 2006— indicate that this year’s returns should be better.
The prediction for 2006 was .5% survival for hatchery coho and 1.5% for wild coho, and that prediction appeared to come true.
I have heard that Dick Beamish is saying that survival for this year should be 4%.
This is not great but it is an improvement.
There has been one other development at Capilano, and this time it’s a welcome one. For many years SSH have been few and far between, but this year noticeable numbers of SSH have appeared in anglers’ catches. I’ve released three myself and lost one, and I have witnessed two others released and one lost. I’ve also heard of about a dozen more summer runs released. At times, too, I have seen SSH swimming in certain pools or rolling. In fact, yesterday morning I visited the Cable Pool and observed four SSH for sure and maybe a fifth. All the fish I have seen closely have been hatchery steelhead of about 6-6 ½ pounds in weight (in other words, two ocean fish). Yet as far as I know, the last time SSH smolts were released (not counting the 2006 brood smolts released a little over a month ago) were the 2003 brood SSH smolts released in 2004. Hardly any SSH appeared last year, but these fish are present this year. Perhaps this year’s returnees are SSH that stayed in the river for an extra year following their release in 2004. In any event, while I feel that this stock has very limited long term prospects of survival, it is a pleasant change to find a few SSH present during the early coho fishery.
Roundtable-Steelhead Society-June 2007
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Roundtable Report Salmon Enhancement and Habitat Advisory Board