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Record low chum salmon count in West Vancouver

Returns of chum salmon in West Vancouver’s Brothers Creek watershed have hit a record low.
SpawningSalmon 02.jpg

Returns of chum salmon in West Vancouver’s Brothers Creek watershed have hit a record low.

That was the stark message from the West Vancouver Streamkeepers society as they briefed District of West Vancouver council Monday night on their fall salmon survey done in partnership with West Vancouver secondary students.

After scanning five creeks and tributaries that lead to the Capilano River over seven weeks, the volunteers spotted only 107 chum, 12 less than the previous record low in 2010, and 83 coho.

“This was our lowest chum run in the last 13 years,” Chaereen Kim, one of the student volunteers. “Also, a large proportion of the salmon we found were dead due to shallow waters, lack of rain and a large number of river otters present, eating salmon as their primary food source.”

John Barker, past president of the Streamkeepers and leader of the salmon survey since it began in 2006, said the results were deeply disappointing.

“You hope for recovery but the chum is where we’ve had a devastating drop and it’s not just restricted to our community. It’s common throughout the South Coast,” he said.

Coun. Nora Gambioli questioned sardonically whether the district ought to do anything about the “pesky otters,” but Barker said no.

The chum salmons' loss has been the river otters' gain. These critters were spotted in West Vancouver's McDonald Creek. photo Layne Christensen, North Shore News

“It’s a difficult one but they’ve got a right to be here and a right to eat too, although it’s hard to see what’s happened,” he said. “Things balance out in the long haul, generally.”

As president, Barker helped grow the West Vancouver Streamkeepers Society to the largest salmon stewardship group in the province and he oversaw many habitat enhancement and citizen science projects, but after 10 years, he opted to step back from the top job at the end of December.

“I just think it's time to have a change in leadership for me and I think in retrospect, it'll be good for the organization,” he said.

Barker said he’d tried to step down and let someone else take over a couple times over the years but there wasn’t anyone willing to step in and fill his chest waders. Late last year, however, they came up with a novel approach.

Taking over the leadership will be Mike Perley and Keith Pelletier as co-chairs. Perley will be in charge of administrative tasks and will be the public face of the organization while Pelletier will oversee the many volunteer projects on the go.

“John has done such a magnificent job that was a little bit daunting for either one of us, Keith and myself, to take it on by ourselves. So we've decided that we would do it as a team,” Perley said.

Perley said not to expect any major changes in how the group operates but they are looking forward to continuing to grow the membership and to make West Vancouver a hospitable home for salmon.

They have one major project on the horizon, a new fish ladder.

“Right now, one of the main problems in the Nelson Creek area is that the fish just can't seem to get into the creeks and spawn, and the estuary and the foreshore is plugged up the logs and whatnot,” he said. “And we should have it ready for the returning salmon by the fall.”

Barker will remain on the society’s board and continue to lead the salmon surveys.

West Vancouver Streamkeepers Society co-chairs Mike Perley and Keith Pelletier, and past president John Barker. photo supplied Gabby Mustapich