Smolt Counting in a Pandemic
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.
Every 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.
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.)
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.
The 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.