An exciting and nerve wracking time has arrived on the Cowichan River, where biologists and First Nations who are counting on the salmon run are waiting for chinook salmon to appear.
So far, few have but with changing weather that’s brought rain, there’s hope the run will return despite low water levels that have been severely impacting the Cowichan.
As his handmade dreamcatchers dangle near the Cowichan River, Fred Jimmy looks to the water for what he hopes are the returning salmon that will fill his community’s freezers this winter.
“I’ll be out there soon,” says Jimmy. “I love fishing. It’s a food source for us.”
The Cowichan Tribes member is one of thousands who’s eyes are focussed on this indicator river, to see if the threatened chinook that should be showing up by now will materialize.
“Just wondering if we’re gonna have fish for years to come for my grandchildren right,” says Cowichan Tribes member Ramsay Alphonse.
So in partnership with the department of Fisheries and Oceans Ramsay Alphonse is up to his knees, trekking through the Cowichan River with sand bags to secure a fish fence that counts returning salmon and identifies them species by species though few fish have appeared so far.
“Every day I think about this because when we were younger we used to have fish everywhere by this time,” says Alphonse.
Their work will ensure each fish that does make it through this fence is accounted for, to give Hatchery workers who will help prop up the run a better idea of what they’re facing in this year’s drought.
“It is an indicator run for national and international monitoring,” says Ian Matthews of Fisheries & Oceans Canada. “So yes it’s critically important from that point of view.”
But experts say the fish won’t come unless the rains do, and low water levels have been a factor all year long.
“It does make it tough for the fish to get up,” says Matthews. “They do trigger on flow increases whether it’s more rain events or just more water coming out of the lake. So when it’s low like this they just tend to hold in the lower river maybe out in the estuary.”
So like the salmon, these people with a vital interest in the run’s survival will wait for a change in the weather. Hoping this run is just being held up by weather and that the lack of returning fish isn’t a sign of something more dire.