Coho salmon off to a good start at South Surrey hatchery

Volunteers say more than half of entire season’s typical run already logged at Little Campbell site

DFO officer Art Demsky – with colleague Jon Hill in the background – holds one of the salmon that was pulled Oct. 20 from the Little Campbell River for brood stock. Some 40,000 eggs were collected that day. (Contributed photo)

DFO officer Art Demsky – with colleague Jon Hill in the background – holds one of the salmon that was pulled Oct. 20 from the Little Campbell River for brood stock. Some 40,000 eggs were collected that day. (Contributed photo)

Early arrivals are pointing to a good year for coho salmon returning to spawn in the Little Campbell River which flows through Langley.

As of end of day Sunday, Oct. 24, some 1,894 fish had been counted by volunteers at the 1284 184th St. hatchery, longtime Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club member Roy Thomson said.

The figure is approximately two-thirds of that seen over the course of the entire last season, which typically peaks for coho in November.

Almost half of the current total was logged the week prior, on Oct. 16.

“Because of the early rain in September, the coho have been fairly good so far,” Thomson said last week, when the coho count was at 1,480 following the arrival Oct. 16 of more than 1,000 fish.

“In a whole year, the average for coho is 2,900. We’ve already got 50 per cent, and we’re not even into November. The indications are we’re going to have a good return on coho this year.”

Thomson shared the positive news during a conversation prompted by concerns that were raised regarding salmon that appeared to be struggling to get past the hatchery’s fish fence.

Two people contacted Black Press Media last week to report that salmon “are dying all over the place” due to a locked gate that was preventing them from getting upriver.

“They’re smashing into it… killing themselves, basically,” said Harley Goertzen. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Bryan Wilson said he saw “hundreds” of stuck salmon during an Oct. 17 visit, and that he was told it was as a result of new rules that limit its opening to when someone from DFO is on-site.

But Thomson and Wayne Wagstaff – who was hatchery director when he spoke to Black Press Media on Oct. 19, but has since left the club – said the concerns are unfounded; that nothing about hatchery operations has changed, and that volunteers’ dedication to give the fish the best chance at survival is as strong as ever.

READ MORE: Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club has storied history

To the general public, it may look out of control, Thomson said, “but we know what’s happening and so does DFO.”

“We try as best we can to get those fish upstream. The people who are doing it are the people who have been doing it for years.”

Regarding the closed gates, Thomson said they remain that way throughout spawning season, which runs from early September to early April. The measure guides the fish through a four-inch opening on the fence’s north end, into a trap where they are held for counting.

He said the trap is blocked off at the end of each counting effort – which happens whenever fish are running and lasts from a few to several hours each time, depending on the volume – in order to keep fish that may arrive after each of those efforts downstream until they can be counted.

“It’s not a problem to hold them,” Thomson noted.

Data on the number, sex and species of each fish has been collected at the hatchery for decades. Thomson described coho numbers seen on Oct. 16 as “an exceptional day” for the species this year.

Significant rainfall brought a deluge of the fish up the river, and volunteers spent around 10 hours logging each one of the 1,000-plus.

“We haven’t had a day like that in two or three years,” Thomson said.

He said he “wouldn’t be surprised” to see another 1,500 coho in the river before their season ends. Some are always set aside for brood stock, and last week, that resulted in the collection and incubation of some 40,000 eggs.

For those interested in taking in the spawning run, Wagstaff said a good viewing point is from the footbridge over the river, and Thomson said the best time to go is the day after a heavy rain. Thomson expects the next influx will come on the afternoon of Thursday, Oct. 28, or the Friday, depending on when and if rain that is in the forecast arrives.

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