One fine day in May, MVIHES volunteer James Craig went snorkelling in the Englishman River Estuary to check up on the salmon fry. He took some amazing photos of Chinook, Coho, and a few Chum Salmon fry hanging out in a variety of hoods (MVIHES slang for aquatic neighbourhoods). Some of his observations are below.
The left-hand photo shows Coho fry taking cover amongst rock and boulders, also called riprap. The fry will remain in the river/estuary system for a year before migrating out to the ocean.
The above photos show eight Chinook fry lurking beneath an old tree that washed up into the estuary. Englishman River Chinook fry only hang around for about 90 days so will probably head out to the ocean by the end of June.
Some of you may remember that in 2017, Nature Trust of BC removed a dyke that impeded the natural tidal flows in the western section of the estuary. Restoration work included placing large woody debris (LWD) in the form of trees and logs in the foot print of the removed dyke. One such piece of LWD is in the above left-hand photo which was harbouring Chinook fry, as seen in the above right-hand photo.
Nature Trust also enhanced a channel in the estuary that branches off from the Englishman River to the west. James observed more than 500 Coho fry in this channel where deciduous forest lined the bank. Salmon fry were scarce where the channel became shallow and veered into open mudflats.
A marauding gang of Coho, Chinook, and Chum fry was observed taking cover below an undercut of the river bank. Such a popular spot!
But the most popular hood of all was a section overhung by Pacific Crab Apple trees (above left-hand photo) that were providing shade, and probably some tasty insects as they fell off the leaves, to at least 785 Coho, Chinook, and Chum fry. The above right-hand photo shows them enjoying the privacy offered by sea-lettuce and other aquatic plants. James has been checking up on the fry in the estuary since 2017 and has found the section under the crab apple trees harbours the highest densities of salmon fry. An important observation that demonstrates the importance of maintaining trees along shorelines, and aquatic vegetation in near-shore environments.
Many thanks to James for sharing his photos and observations. We can't wait to see what he gets up to next.
Despite the cold soggy spring we are having, our volunteers are as busy as ever and even managed to squeeze in some tree planting on a rare sunny day. Read on to see some of things we have been up to.
A Great Partnership
The Snaw-naw-as First Nation and MVIHES have formed a partnership in habitat restoration on Shelly Creek. Andrew McNaughton, a consultant for the Snaw-naw-as, approached MVIHES to see if there were projects we could partner on and indeed there are.
You may remember that last summer MVIHES conducted work on a 400 m stretch of Shelly Creek on the Shelly Farm. There were still a couple of tasks remaining with that project including shrub and tree planting along the edge of the creek, and installing woody debris for fish cover. Andrew consulted with our biologist, Dave Clough, on the native shrub and tree species that should be planted for providing stream bank stabilization and mega shade for Coho Salmon fry during the hot, dry summers.
The Snaw-naw-as purchased 255 plants in 2 gallon, 5 gallon, and 7 gallon pots from Streamside Nursery. So these weren't the tiny seedling plugs planted by professional tree planters. The plants were much larger and robust to increase survival and provide shade to the creek quickly. And downright heavy (oh my aching back). In fact, the Snaw-naw-as had to rent a Budget moving truck to pick up the plants from the nursery. It took 2 trips. Species included Salmonberry, Pacific Nine-bark, Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, and Black Hawthorn.
The planting began on April 19 with six band members and twelve MVIHES volunteers (seen in photos below) and was finished up on April 20 by 5 band members. A job well-done by everyone.
Since then, Andrew has sourced two truck loads of small tree stumps and logs from a logging operation and had them delivered to the Shelly Farm. This woody debris will be installed in the creek later this summer with our Snaw-naw-as partners to provide the salmon fry cover from predators. As they say in "Casablanca", I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Many thanks to:
Snaw-naw-as First Nation Team lead by Chris Bob
MVIHES Volunteers: Austin Peterson, Brenda and Dennis Riley, Carl Rathburn, Dick Dobler, Sue Wilson, James Craig, Randy Walz, Rick Walz, Pat Ashton, Brian Lea, and Barb Riordan
And of course, Murray and Shelly Laplante, owners of Shelly Farm.
Speaking of Coho Salmon...
Our smolt trap was installed in March (see photos below) for our annual count of Coho Salmon smolts and juvenile trout as they migrate out of Martindale Pond on Shelly Creek into the Englishman River and out to the ocean. The project is headed up by MVIHES volunteers Shelley Goertzen and Carl Rathburn. The lifting of Covid restrictions has meant all of our volunteers can be involved like the good old days. Woohoo!
The migration was delayed by the unseasonably cold, wet spring. With lots of water and oxygen (due to cool water temperatures) why would the fish want to leave the relatively calm and safe waters of the creek for the ocean full of predators? Warm water temperatures and a drop in oxygen levels are what trigger the fish to begin their migration which finally started at the end of April. As of May 13, a total of 1764 Coho smolts and 54 Cutthroat and Rainbow Trout have been counted. The highest daily count so far is 337 Coho smolts. The actual number of fish is probably higher since high water levels have allowed some of the creek flow to bypass the smolt fence. The BC Conservation Foundation is once again PIT tagging the fish captured in the smolt trap for the Salish Sea Survival Bottlenecks Study.
An interesting observation this year is that many of the smolts are bigger and more silver in colour than in past years and some of the trout are just plain big, up to 30 cm (left-hand photo). Is this due to the restoration work conducted in Martindale Pond and upstream in Shelly Creek? Or is this being observed at the other smolt traps across the island? We'll have to ask Laura Terry, our Community Salmon Program Advisor. By the way, the trout in the photo was one of four sea-run Cutthroat Trout that probably came into the creek to snack on the smolts, rotten scoundrels. David Mackenzie from Nanaimo has been taking footage of fish in the smolt trap and has provided us with an awesome video which you can view here.
Many thanks to our volunteers: Andrew Borelli, Austin Peterson, Carl Rathburn, Chris Smith, Dave Erickson, Dick Dobler, Jo McIlveen, Pete Law, Shelley Goertzen, Terry Baum, Barbara Wildman-Spencer, Ben McManus, and Gordon Armbruster.
A Tale of One Urban Creek
During the month of August, MVIHES will be participating in the ETHOS program at the McMillan Arts Centre (MAC) in Parksville, part of an art installation project at the MAC titled A Tale of One Urban Creek. The objective of the program is to bring art and science together in celebration of our beloved Shelly Creek. While local artists (including MVIHES board member Chris Smith) are exhibiting their works of art themed around the creek, an interactive display of aquatic life and programs conserving aquatic ecosystems will be in the room across the hall.
Other partners in the interactive display include: VIU Deep Bay Marine Station, Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute, Regional District of Nanaimo Drinking Water and Watershed Protection Program, and Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
MVIHES will be running a Pond Critters aquarium thoughout August as part of the interactive display plus 2 or 3 beach seining events at the Community Beach (left-hand photo) to demonstrate the diversity of life in aquatic systems. The goal is to encourage people to become stewards of aquatic environments.