"Committed to the restoration of wild Pacific salmon in mid Vancouver
Island watersheds through habitat restoration and community engagement"
"Committed to the restoration of wild Pacific salmon in mid Vancouver
Island watersheds through habitat restoration and community engagement"

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Lord of the Flies, Part Two

"Lord of the Flies" - MVIHES term for an expert in identifying aquatic bugs 

Some of you may remember last year's program of monitoring Benthic Invertebrates (fancy term for aquatic bugs) to measure the health of the Englishman River and its tributaries. The results are in and are summarized below.

Lordoftheflies1

 

The photo to the left shows Bruce Murray (standing), our own Lord of the Flies, leading volunteers in sorting Benthic Invertebrates collected from the river bottom into trays for identification by Bruce. In addition to MVIHES volunteers, members of the Island Waters Flyfishing Club in Nanaimo, a member of the Mid-Island Castaways Fly Fishing Club in Qualicum Beach, and students from Dover Bay Secondary School Field Biology Program, participated. 

                                                                                                                                             2019 - Volunteers Sorting Aquatic Bugs 

Lordoftheflies5

 

 

We used a method of sampling that has been around for a while, and anyone who has taken the “Streamkeepers"  course will remember it. We scrape rocks from the bottom of the river into fine meshed nets to capture the bugs, as shown in the photo to the right.

 

 

Lordoftheflies3

Lordoftheflies4

 

 

 

Bruce then strapped on a pretty impressive set of magnifiers to get a very close look at the features of the bugs to aid in their identification. Data on the types of bugs and their numbers were recorded. The bugs were then released back into the river.

 

 

 

Once all the bugs were identified, we used the  "Streamkeepers" method of categorizing  them  into the following three groups depending on their ability or inability to tolerate polluted  water.

  • Pollution Intolerant: Caddis Flies, Stone Flies, May Flies, Dobson Flies, Riffle Beetles. These species require clear, clean , well oxygenated water, as do salmon and trout. 
  • Somewhat Pollution Intolerant: Dragon Flies, Damsel Flies, Crane Flies, Aquatic Sowbugs, Alder Flies, Scud, Crayfish, Clams
  • Pollution Tolerant: Midges, Black Flies, Backswimmers, Boatmen, Leeches, Aquatic Worms, 

A river that has a lot of bugs that are intolerant of pollution is considered to be healthier than a river with more of the bugs that tolerate pollution.

A total of eight sites were sampled:

  • four in the Englishman River between the Englishman River Regional Park and the Orange Bridge in Parksville
  • one in the South Englishman River
  • one in Centre Creek
  • one in Morison Creek 
  • one in Shelly Creek

The sample site in Morison Creek had the highest abundance of bugs while the site at the Orange Bridge had the lowest abundance. 

mayflynymphcaddisflylarva

 

 

May Fly (left photo) was the dominant species at five sites while Caddis Fly (right photo) was dominant at two sites.  Both are Pollution Intolerant.

 

 

 

watermite

 

 

 

The Top Bridge sample site in the Regional Park was dominated by Water Mites which are a Pollution Tolerant species (right photo). Water Mites are the size of pepper grains, are NOT a human health issue, and provide a nice snack for young trout and salmon. Although the Water Mites were the most plentiful species at this site, the combined numbers of Pollution Intolerant and Somewhat Tolerant bugs were greater.

 

 

 

When we combine the bugs collected at all the sites, 78% were Pollution Intolerant, 4% were Somewhat Pollution Tolerant and 24% were Pollution Tolerant. When we look at the combination of bugs for the individual sites, we find that although there were more Pollution Intolerant bugs, two sample sites had enough Pollution Tolerant bugs to rate the sites as only "Marginal" and "Acceptable", compared to "Good" for the remaining six sites. The graph below shows the score for the sample sites based on a Pollution Tolerance Index.

 Aquaticbugschart

This is certainly good news as it shows that in 2019, the Englishman River watershed appeared to be in reasonably good health, based on this study. The technical report can be viewed by clicking here.

This study was a major undertaking and would not have been possible without the participation of nineteen volunteers listed below.

Island Waters Fly Fishing Club

Chris Depka, Matt Haapla, Bernie Heinrichs, Bob MacEachern, John Stymiest

Dover Bay Secondary School

Four students of the Field Biology Program

MVIHES

Pat Ashton, James Craig, Dick Dobler, Nancy Hancock, Pete Law, Don McDonnell, Ben McManus, Janet McManus, Bruce Murray, Michel Vallee  (also a member of the Mid-Island Castaways  Fly Fishing Club)                                                                                               

2020 Coho Smolt Count Results

smoltfencesmallOn May 11, the annual Coho smolt count that began on March 16 on Shelly Creek ended with a total count of 3,156 smolts and 13 Trout (2 Cutthroat, 11 Rainbow).  The counting was done by Shelley and Carl who maintained a distance of 2 m apart and successfully completed the count with neither of them catching the Coronavirus. YESSSS! It worked! Thank you Shelley and Carl.

How does the count compare with other years? Well, this year's Coho smolt number of 3,156 was within the range of 755 to 8,094 smolts counted since the annual smolt trapping program began in 2011.  The Trout numbers (13), however,  were much lower than expected and the fish were smaller.

Until 2017, Trout numbers ranged between 0 and 60. In 2016, MVIHES removed a large         Smolt Counting Fence              yellow iris infestation from the Martindale Pond (part of Shelly Creek) where Coho smolts and Trout over-winter. This opened up a lot of open water habitat and in 2017, we counted 153 Trout. In 2018 and 2019 (click here for the report), we counted 296 and 126 Trout, respectively. Could the increase in Trout numbers be due to the increase in open water habitat? 

measuringcohoIf so, what happened this year? The Martindale Pond has been filling with sediment from erosion upstream in Shelly Creek and flooding of the Martindale neighbourhood  by the Englishman River. The thickness of the sediment layer appears to have increased this year with less free water sitting above the layer. We have also noticed significantly more floating aquatic vegetation in the pond which may be a result of the thicker sediment. Did the reduction in the open water habitat that we gained in 2016, result in less suitable habitat for Trout this year and therefore fewer fish?                                                                                                                                                                                                           Measuring a Smolt

badfish2Or, it could be that the Trout were just socially distancing, unlike the snarky Coho. 

Fortunately, we will be removing sediment from Martindale Pond in late summer in collaboration with a local contractor under a grant from Pacific Salmon Foundation. It is likely the counts in 2021, 2022 and 2023 will determine what impact removing the sediment had on the fish populations.

 

Smolt Counting in a Pandemic

Badfish

 

Two of our diligent volunteers, Shelley and Carl, are conducting the annual Coho smolt count on Shelly Creek admidst the COVID 19 pandemic by staying 2 m away from each other.  The fish, on the other hand, are not behaving themselves at all.

 

 

 

MartindalePondEvery winter, flooding of the Englishman River sweeps Coho Salmon fry into the Martindale Pond (shown in the photo to the left),  a section of the creek upstream of Martindale Road in Parksville. The fry remain in the pond for the winter, sheltered from the turbulent flows of the Englishman River, where they develop into smolts in the spring. The migration back to the Englishman River begins when water temperatures increase and oxygen levels in the pond begin to drop.  

 

 

holysmoltssmoltfencesmall

Each spring, we set up the smolt trap in Shelly Creek to count the Coho Salmon smolts as they migrate out of the pond to the Englishman River and out to the ocean. The trap includes a fence that directs the fish through a pipe into a box where the fish are held until they are counted and released into the creek, as seen in the photos to the right. (All photos were taken before social distancing measures.)

 

 

 

 

smoltfence2

  smoltbox

The smolt fence and box were installed by  volunteers on March 15.

 

 

 

 

Normally, four to five people come to the the trap each morning to count the fish. But shortly after installation, the Province of BC advised people to self-isolate and conduct social distancing when around others to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. MVIHES has limited the counting to two people, with one person recording data and a second handling the fish so that a distance of 2 m between volunteers can be maintained and equipment is not handled by more than one person. Not as much fun as previous years but if we all behave ourselves, this too shall pass.

 

countingsmoltThe fish have a completely different attitude. There were 172 of them packed into the box today! In fact, a total of 1,115 smolts have been counted so far and we still have a few weeks of counting to go. The average number of smolts counted in a season is around 4,000, with the 2013 and 2018 seasons having over 7,000 smolts, and the 2012 season having over 8,000 smolts. This demonstrates the importance of Shelly Creek to the Englishman River Coho Salmon stocks. To learn more about Shelly Creek and read the latest report for comparing results from previous years, click here.

                                     Smolts (and a red-legged frog) are netted from the box and placed in a tub to be                                       identified and counted.