Victoria’s Bowker Creek will host young salmon for the first time in decades thanks to the efforts of a local conservation group and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
The eight-kilometre waterway, which runs through Saanich, Victoria and Oak Bay, is mostly underground but there is a open section in Oak Bay.
The Friends of Bowker Creek Society is partnering with the Peninsula Streams Society to restore salmon to this urban watershed. Fisheries and Oceans Canada has approved the dispersal of 30,000 chum salmon eggs.
Ian Bruce, the executive coordinator of the Peninsula Streams Society, says traditional knowledge and stories suggest there were trout and salmon in Bowker even as late as the 1930s.
“Bowker Creek would have likely had quite a run in it back in the day,” Bruce said.
Salmon typically hatch in freshwater streams, migrate to the ocean, then return to the same freshwater streams to reproduce. With the urbanization of streams across B.C. like Bowker Creek, the once abundant freshwater salmon habitats of the past have been vastly reduced.
Bruce says reintroducing salmon is a bit of a “chicken and egg” situation. As the salmon come back, the stream will improve, thus becoming better habitat for salmon and so on.
“If [the fish] come back … there’ll be more investment of volunteers and by the municipalities in the Capital Regional District to make their home stream more welcoming. More restoration, better water quality, etc.,” he said.
The plan is to release 30,000 chum salmon eggs into special “egg condos” in a gravel bank in the stream in February. Chum was chosen because unlike other salmon species like Chinook, which can spend months or even years in freshwater when they are young, chum salmon spend relatively less time in freshwater as young fish or fry.
“Chum have a simple life history. They spend three to four years out in the ocean and very little time in freshwater. Basically once they come out of the gravel, they migrate as fry to the ocean,” said Bruce.
Bruce says he is aware the project is a tough one.
Even with 30,000 eggs, an exceptional return might be around 40 to 60 adult fish.
“There’s a large degree of hope involved in these operations, particularly in urban streams,” he said. “But it’s been done and it’s not without precedent.”