"Committed to the recovery 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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Pacific Sand Lance Storm the Beaches of Parksville

2021 was the best year yet for documenting Pacific Sand Lance spawning on our shores!

Sand Lance are just one of the forage fish species that travel in large schools and make up the cornerstone of marine food webs. Pacific salmon are just one of the predators of forage fish.

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Sand Lance lay tiny eggs (1mm) on pebble and sand beaches just below the high-tide line - an area called the intertidal zone. Spawning occurs between November and February at high tide. It has been suggested the fish prefer full and new moons, when high tides are at the highest and providing maximum area for spawning.  At low tide, MVIHES volunteers visit the beaches from Craig Bay to Columbia Beach to collect sand and gravel samples to see if they contain eggs. Samples are collected from plots set up in the intertidal zone of established monitoring sites. The photo below shows a plot which has been set up with measuring tapes. 

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A plot is 5 m wide and runs for 30 m along the beach. Samples are seived and "vortexed" (a process similar to gold panning) to sort out the smallest and lightest grains on which eggs are typically found.

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The sorted grains are placed under a microscope at Vancouver Island University (VIU) where the Forage Fish project leaders at the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute (MABRRI) check for eggs. The photo on the right is a microscopic view of Sand Lance eggs in a sample taken on December 13 from one of our beach monitoring locations in San Pareil. So far this season, eggs were found in our samples at the following locations:    

Craig Bay on December 1

San Pareil on November 17, December 1, and December 13

Community Park Beach on November 29 and December 13

French Creek Marina on November 29

 

 So why is it important that Sand Lance spawning sites be documented?

Our actions on and around these beaches, like shoreline development, can have negative impacts on forage fish spawning success so it is important to know where and when these fish spawn. Work by heavy equipment should be avoided on Sand Lance beaches between November and February. Unfortunately, this is the season when serious damage occurs to shoreline property and homes that require urgent repairs, as we have seen in the local news. A lot of the damage to property and homes can be avoided if shoreline development is conducted using ecologically sound practices. Best of all, these practices can help conserve the spawning habitat that is currently being degraded by retaining walls and other hard shoreline structures.

Green Shores is a program that is gaining popularity for making shorelines more secure against flooding and erosion and restoring shoreline ecological function for species like Pacific Sand Lance. Below is a figure from the Green Shores website that highlights the difference between standard and Green practices.

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To learn more about Green Shores, check out their website at https://stewardshipcentrebc.ca/green-shores-home/

 

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In the meantime, many thanks to our hard working Project Leader, Shelley Goertzen, and her school of volunteers who continue to monitor our beaches for spawning Pacific Sand Lance. They are: Pat Ashton, Chris Bob (Snaw-naw-as Fisheries Technician), Andrew Borelli, David Bradford, Alex Grant, Brenda Little, Don Lyster, Don McConnell, Janet and Ben McManus, and Catherine Watson. 

 

The Latest News From MVIHES

Whether we're tracking Cutthroat Trout with scanners and antenna arrays in Shelly Creek, pruning a man-eating Raingarden at the Fire Hall, or observing Coho Salmon spawing on our latest fish habitat restoration project, there's never a dull moment with MVIHES.

Parksville Fire Hall Raingarden

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On November 9, fourteen volunteers pruned, clipped, and chopped  three truck and trailer loads (725 kg) of unruly vegetation from the Raingarden in front of the Fire Hall. This is in addition to the four loads we removed in March.

 

 

The Raingarden was built by MVIHES and the City of Parksville in 2012 and was planted with native vegetation. Over the following eight years it grew into an unsightly, impenetrable jungle and was unrecognizable as a Raingarden. Even the sign was swallowed up by vegetation. We've since learned that the Raingarden needs to be treated like a regular garden despite having natural vegetation.

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Now you can see individual plants. One more day of manicuring and the Raingarden should be transformed into something we can take pride in again. Some light pruning every year should keep it looking attractive. To read more about the Raingarden and its purpose, check out our last article on the Raingarden .

 

 

 Shelly Creek Cutthroat Trout PIT Tagging Study

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There are now 52 Cutthroat Trout with PIT Tags containing transponders for tracking the trout and determining their home range in Shelly Creek.The study has been ongoing since June and is lead by Ally Badger, a fourth year Biology student from Vancouver Island University. Ally has been using a scanner that looks like a metal detector to track the movements of the tagged fish, as seen in the left-hand photo. 

 

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Since our last article on the Shelly Creek PIT Tagging Study,  two antenna arrays have been installed in the creek that can pick up movements of the fish on a continual basis for several years. When a tagged fish swims over an array, the code in the PIT Tag is picked up and stored in a data collector along with the time and date of the event. This is an extension of Ally's study.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    One of two antenna arrays for tracking tagged trout.                                                                                                                                                            

The antenna arrays and data collectors are powered by four car batteries that are changed out by volunteers with a second set of charged batteries every two weeks. Due to the value of the equipment and its importance to the study, it's being guarded by a gang of Hobbits in a secure location in the Shire, so those thieving Goblins can just forget about searching for it. 

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                                                             Each array is connected to its own data collector                   Four car batteries power the arrays and data collectors

Ally will complete her field work in February 2022 and write up the findings in her fourth year thesis which she will present at a fisheries conference in Vancouver next June. 

 

Shelly Creek Habitat Restoration - Phase II

Great news about the 400 m of creek that was restored this summer on the Shelly Farm! About 25 Coho Salmon were observed spawning there on November 4, by our favourite Biologist, Dave Clough. Woohoo!

Below are photos taken in early September immediately after the completion of the restoration work compared with photos taken at the beginning of the rainy season. Notice how the grasses we seeded for erosion control have come up like "gang busters". For details on the restoration work, check out our last article.

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                                                        Restored creek bed in September                                                   Restored creek bed in November      

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                          Pond (created for refuge from summer drought) in September                                                    Pond in November

 

 That's all folks......for now. 

 

 

 

Shelly Creek Fish Habitat Restoration - Phase II Complete

This time last year we had just completed the Shelly Creek Fish Habitat Restoration project in Martindale Pond where over 30 truck loads of sediment and reed canary grass (an invasive species) were removed, restoring approximately 1000 m2 of overwintering habitat for Coho Salmon fry and smolts, and juvenile trout.

This year, fish habitat restoration work was completed on a 400 m section of Shelly Creek that flows through the Shelly Farm (located at Stanford Avenue in Parksville) before flowing into Martindale Pond and under Martindale Road on its way to the Englishman River. The restored section, shown between the two red lines on the map below, is also used as rearing habitat for Coho fry and smolts. The fish habitat restoration work was designed and supervised by our Biologist, Dave Clough.

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Decades of sediment from upstream sources had buried the creek, displacing habitat and enabling reed canary grass and that dreaded Himalayan blackberry to choke streamflow.  

 

 

 

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Shallow pools at risk of becoming oxygen deprived and too warm to sustain Coho fry were the only habitat in summer.

 

 

 

 

With a grant from the Pacific Salmon Foundation for $22,200, we hired Parksville Heavy Equipment (PHE) to excavate the sediment and invasive vegetation; re-establish the creek channel and deep pools; and add 80 cubic yards of gravel and rock to restore the aquatic habitat required for the bugs that the fry feed upon. The pools quickly filled with groundwater which means a water source for the creek had been cut off by the thick layer of sediment.The photos below illustrate the amazing job PHE did for us. What a transformation!! 

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The excavated sediment was used to make a berm to help contain water in the stream channel during high flows and stop the flooding of the farmer's field every winter. The berm was contoured so rainfall will flow off evenly, preventing erosion. MVIHES volunteers seeded the berm with a fast-growing erosion control seed mix and covered it in straw to prevent the seed from being washed away by the rain. Shrubs were already beginning to regenerate on the berm and creek bank. 

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 Spreading straw: Pat Ashton, foreground; Carl Rathburn; Ryan Christie, way in back.                          Don McConnell                                                        

The other seed and straw spreaders were Chris Smith, Dick Dobler, Brian Lea, Shelley Goertzen, and Barb Riordan.

Like Martindale Pond last year, this project was Carl Rathburn's baby. Carl did the communicating with the owners of Shelly Farm, and organizing PHE and Dave Clough to get the party started.

In addition to Carl and the super spreaders, many thanks go out to:

Dave Clough (DR Clough Consulting):  project design and "Notification for Changes in a Stream"; erosion and sediment control; site restoration.

Ryan Christie, John Christie, and all the crew at Parksville Heavy Equipment: contractor for creek excavation and site restoration.

Murray and Shelly Laplante, landowners of Shelly Farm : granted permission for completing work on their farm. Provided straw bales.

Laura Terry, Community Advisor for Department of Fisheries and Oceans: supported project and submitted "Notification for Changes in a Stream".

 Barb Riordan, MVIHES volunteer: applied for PSF grant; took some pictures; bossed a few people around.

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