6 thoughts on “USA: 19th century museum coho salmon help against destructive corporate plans

  1. No fish story: Chemical spill in river will benefit salmon
    Scott Simpson, Vancouver Sun
    Published: Wednesday, July 11, 2007

    The recovery of the Cheakamus River may be more rapid and vigorous than anyone imagined when a catastrophic chemical spill wiped out fish in the Squamish-area stream in 2005.

    Fisheries research since the spill confirms that a CN Rail derailment that spilled 40,000 litres of caustic soda into the stream on Aug. 5, 2005 played havoc with juvenile populations of migratory salmon and steelhead, as well as full-time river residents including sculpin and stickleback.

    At least 500,000 fish died, the B.C. Ministry of Environment estimates, including 90 per cent of one-year-old chinook and steelhead, and 50 per cent of two-year-old coho.

    However, researchers are also reporting some inadvertent benefits from the disaster, which will be reviewed in more detail in a report on the CN derailment to be released today by the federal Transportation Safety Board.

    It appears that the elimination of so-called coarse fish made life easier for subsequent generations of salmonid hatchlings to thrive — removing threats of predation and easing competition for food.

    For example, a record number of chum fry survived to migrate out of the Cheakamus this spring.

    University of B.C. fisheries researcher Josh Korman said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that, anecdotally, his own in-stream snorkel surveys are turning up swarms of newborn and one-year-old steelhead.

    Again, an absence of predators and rivals — including older juvenile steelhead wiped out in the spill — gets the credit.

    That’s not all — Korman said there has been an apparent upswing in ocean survival over the past three years for steelhead migrating out of the river.

    The small number of fish that escaped the 2005 spill could be thriving out in the ocean — and surviving in greater numbers than nature typically allows.

    That would set the stage for a steelhead population recovery in just a couple of generations — 10 years — compared with the 50-year timeline some biologists had originally feared.

    Korman has unpublished data on the steelhead return to the Cheakamus last spring showing the run was unusually strong and he suspects favourable ocean conditions were the reason.

    Korman said the full effect of the spill won’t be discerned until at least 2008, and more likely 2009-10. That’s when Cheakamus steelhead that survived the spill as juveniles are scheduled to return as spawning adults.

    The return for those generations could be negligible, but Korman said there is room for optimism based on what’s happening in the river and ocean.

    “What we are seeing now are adult returns, the fish that were out at sea the last two years and were not exposed to the spill. Last spring’s return was the best we had on record,” Korman said.

    Juvenile offspring from spawning generations that were not exposed to the spill are also thriving.

    “I’ve snorkeled in there at night and looked at juvenile fish. I’ve seen fish densities in other rivers, and I can say that the steelhead densities in the Cheakamus are exceptional right now for parr and fry.”

    B.C. Environment Minister Barry Penner said the government was “extremely disturbed” by the impact of the spill.

    “But generally speaking, we’ve been encouraged at the recovery so far,” Penner said in a telephone interview.

    The ministry is supporting a steelhead recovery program that augments natural spawning with plants of hatchery-bred fish for the affected year-classes.

    He said the 2009 and 2010 returns will be critical.

    “But what we are seeing so far is pretty good returns and success with juveniles. That may be because there are fewer sculpins in the river. Right now the river is quite full of food for the salmon and the steelhead.”

    So far, CN has committed at least $3.5 million to a variety of programs aimed at supporting the recovery of the Cheakamus, including hatchery operations and habitat improvements.

    “Given the nature of the work that needs to be done we are talking about a long-term program because it’s not the kind of thing you can fix overnight,” said Jim Feeny, CN’s Western Canada spokesman. “What we are hearing from the scientific experts, both in government and our own folks, is that it will take about 10 years to be able to fully assess the success of the work.

    “We are committed to doing that work through that period because our intent is to put things back to right.”

    ssimpson@png.canwest.com

    – – –

    COUNTING THE YOUNG SALMON

    MONITORING: Dark squares and lines show locations of acoustic monitors.

    HEADED OUT INTO THE PACIFIC:

    In past studies, Cheakamus steelhead turned north once out of the river, taking about 25 days to swim from where they were tagged to a receiver in Queen Charlotte Strait. Fish leave the protected Strait of Georgia through either a northern or a southern passage.

    PROGRAM: Study proposed for 2007-2008 called for up to 300 fish to be tagged in the two years, consisting of both hatchery and wild steelhead smolts.

    THE PROBLEM: August 2005 CN derailment spilled highly corrosive sodium hydroxide into the Cheakamus River, resulting in a massive fish kill.

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