Take a walk through Bowen Park and you’ll see salmon resting in the duck pond before they move up river to spawn.
Increasing numbers of salmon are swimming up the Millstone River, thanks in a big way to money provided by the Pacific Salmon Foundation, which in 2007 helped create the Millstone River side channel to give salmon an easier migration route around two steep waterfalls to get to spawning grounds upriver and in Brannen Lake. The project also rejuvenated Bowen Park as it opened up new pathways and created a centre for delivering environmental education programs to children.
Already more than 100 coho have been counted in the side channel and this year John Morgan, a professor with Vancouver Island University’s Natural Resource Protection Program, is hoping for a record coho run.
“Typically [coho] live to be three years old,” Morgan said. “So [the side channel] was seeded for the first couple of years from Nanaimo Fish Hatchery, but in 2010, 500 came back and about two dozen spawned in the channel, so there was fish in the channel for people to see.”
2013 has been a good year for coho runs, but there has been little of the rain needed to raise water levels so the fish can move upstream. A strong rain at the end of September got about 100 coho up to the Bowen Park duck pond where they were stuck until recent heavy rains allowed them to move farther upriver.
“We’re expecting at least 500, hopefully 1,000, once it starts raining,” Morgan said. “So that will be a fair number of fish in that channel again for people to see and starting from zero six years ago, up to 1,000 for coho is actually pretty good.”
This will also be the first coho run of offspring spawned in the Millstone River.
“In 2010, those were the progeny of the seeded fish and these are the first naturalized fish,” Morgan said. “They haven’t all shown up yet, but they’re starting to come now.”
People will have to peer carefully into the water to see them, though. Coho, unlike brightly coloured chum salmon, are shy, well camouflaged and like to hide in the shadows in the daytime and only spawn at night. That behaviour makes it tough for spectators wanting to witness the cycle of life, but they are perfect traits for a fish to breed in a relatively shallow urban stream, like the Millstone River.
“They’re not the best spectator sport fish, but they’re well adapted to small streams,” Morgan said.
Since 1991 the Pacific Salmon Foundation’s community salmon program has contributed more than $651,000 to 94 salmon conservation projects in and around Nanaimo from Duncan to Fanny Bay.
The foundation – a non-profit, charitable organization dedicated to conserving and restoring salmon and their habitat – will host its 11th annual charity dinner, dance and auction in Nanaimo, chaired by Mel Sheng, head of Fisheries and Oceans Canada salmon enhancement programs on the south B.C. Coast, at Beban Park Nov. 23.
The event includes live and silent auctions and raffles offering prizes such as fishing adventures, original artwork, giftware, jewelry and more.
Tickets, $60 each, are available in Nanaimo at Gone Fishin’, 600-2980 North Island Highway, and Wholesale Sports Outdoor Outfitters, 4900 Wellington Rd.
Prior to the gala, get a first-hand look at how the Millstone River side channel benefits salmon by participating in one of two Spawner Spotting Workshops, geared for children and hosted by the city, with Charles Thirkill, fisheries biologist.
Join Thirkill at the Bowen Park Duck Pond for a one-hour informative stream-side walk to learn about the life cycle of salmon and spot fish preparing to spawn in the river.
The workshops happen Nov. 16 from 10:30-11:30 a.m. and Nov. 24 from 1-2 p.m. Admission is $10, free for parent.
Please call Nanaimo parks and recreation at 250-756-5200 to register.