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First fish clear Seymour River rock slide

There has been a possibly momentous discovery on the Seymour River.

There has been a possibly momentous discovery on the Seymour River.

After four years of slowly breaking apart a 50,000-cubic-metre rock slide that choked the river off to spawning fish, volunteers with the Seymour Salmonid Society have spotted the first coho salmon and steelhead trout to traverse the slide on their own.

“We have been working on this for four years so, for the community, this is just great news. It’s fabulous news. I’m handing out cigars like a new father,” said Shaun Hollingsworth, president of the Seymour Salmonid Society, which has led the rescue effort.

Normally, after a summer of rock breaking, the society waits for the spring rains and snowmelt to move the broken boulders down to the channel floor before assessing how much progress has been made, but the fish apparently aren’t waiting.

Hollingsworth will have to leave some champagne bottles corked, however. They still need to make sure that it wasn’t a fluke of some kind, or there is another explanation – like someone catching the fish and releasing them above the slide.

“As far as we know, nobody has done that, but the naysayers need to be proven wrong,” he said.

On Thursday, volunteers put radio telemetry tags on 10 fish below the slide “and sent them on their way.”

“We will have individuals walking up and down the river with antennas tracking those fish, so over the next several months we’ll be able to confirm radio tagged fish can make it up,” he said.

Hollingsworth visits the site, which is about a 15-minute hike from the top of Riverside Drive, three nights a week to monitor the progress. In order to clear the slide, returning fish must climb four to five metres over a 20-metre stretch, which he said is no more strenuous than other natural waterfalls on the route.

“When I go and sit at the rock slide, I believe that it’s fish passable, and Mother Nature is proving my gut feel correct,” he said.

They don’t know for sure if the coho was one that came from the Seymour River Hatchery or if it was a wild one, but, with a four-year return cycle, the coho would never have known its home river without the impact of the 2015 rock slide. In either case, the thought of the Seymour surviving as a fish-bearing stream has Hollingsworth beaming.

“I’ve got my grandson here beside me. He’ll be able to enjoy it the way that I’ve been able to enjoy it over the many years,” he said, adding that big thanks are owed to the six governments – local, provincial, and federal as well as Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations – in addition to a host of NGOs, who have worked on the project. “It’s thrilling. It’s unbelievable. It’s just a great feeling and I just want those who have been part of it to be proud of what they’ve done.”