By Neil Cameron
Special to the Mirror
In a tale of two local salmon river systems, the Oyster River is seeing positive growth in returning stocks while the Quinsam/Campbell river system is seeing modest gains in returning coho but chinook numbers are down.
Returns of adult coho salmon to the Quinsam River system for 2018 were about double compared to last year, according to Quinsam River hatchery manager Ed Walls.
“They’re better than last year,” said Walls. “Last year was really poor, one of the poorest we have ever had.”
Meanwhile chinook numbers are down from last year. Walls said while it’s early and final numbers are still being crunched, returns to the Quinsam are estimated at 6,600, compared to 9,000 last year. While down, the return is still above four- and 12-year averages.
As for the Campbell River chinook, it appears about 630 fish returned compared to 700 last year, not a big change but still very low numbers, said Walls. The target escapement for the Campbell is 1,000 to 2,000 pairs of chinook.
And that’s not good news for the iconic Campbell River Tyee.
A report commissioned by the Campbell River Salmon Foundation (CRSF) last year showed that virtually all of the spawning areas historically used by those fish have been wiped clean of usable spawning gravel.
Fewer salmon on less spawning gravel is not a healthy equation.
When BC Hydro began their hydroelectric project on the Campbell watershed in the 1950s, natural recruitment of gravel to the river stopped because of the dams. Over the decades, what gravel remained was steadily washed away, mostly due to BC Hydro having to spill water from its reservoir during extremely high water conditions. But even normal river flows undoubtedly helped whittle down the spawning supply.
Many projects to replace that gravel over the years, most of them funded in part through the CRSF and its support from the general public, have been wiped out on an almost annual basis by BC Hydro as it tried to manage historic water intakes into the system.
It was that special-sized gravel that helped create the large size of the Tyee, a chinook of 30 pounds plus, and helped give Campbell River its title of Salmon Capital of the World.
This year, DFO moved gravel from a spawning channel that had been filled with gravel from a dedicated spawning area upstream. That gravel, sponsored in part by the CRSF, was flushed out of the river and into the spawning channel where it became virtually useless because there was too much of it.
The DFO project on what is called the Second Island, moved that gravel into the mainstem Campbell, making it available for spawning chinook.
“There was a significant amount of gravel that went out there,” said Walls. “So there will be some places for those fish to spawn.”
Meanwhile, around 100,000 pinks also returned to the Quinsam River, a similar number to last year.
Rosier picture on the Oyster River
In what is probably one of the biggest salmon success stories in 2018 in British Columbia, the Oyster River has turned out almost unbelievable year-over-year numbers.
Leading the way was the return of pinks. The pink salmon return in 2017 was 1,300. This year that number blossomed to 8,500.
And then there was the coho.
In 2017, the coho return to the Oyster was 2,800. In 2018 the return almost quadrupled to 8,300.
And in a year when province-wide returns of chinooks have been on a decline, the Oyster’s return almost doubled from 130 in 2017 to 250 in 2018.
The chum salmon return also more than doubled. This year, 1,300 chums returned compared to 700 in 2017.
Perhaps the biggest part of this story is that it was mostly due to the efforts of the Oyster Enhancement Society (ORES).
ORES was formed in 1983 when a group of concerned citizens got together to try to bring back the then decimated river.
Due to all the usual culprits – including logging and over fishing – the once-rich Oyster was brought to its knees. Salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout numbers dropped off the map.
Returns have varied over the years, but the 2018 numbers show that if there is a will, there is a way.
The volunteer group operates on donations from public and corporate sources. You can help them in their efforts by donating by mail to the Oyster River Enhancement Society, P.O. Box 93, Black Creek B. C., V9J 1K8.
Those kind donations in the past have helped ORES add more hatchery equipment to increase their incubation capabilities.
They also support several schools in the area with salmon in the classroom programs and their coho smolt release in the spring.