‘Pesky’ otters continue to prey on Colquitz River salmon population

'Pesky' otters continue to prey on Colquitz River salmon population
WatchThe Colquitz River fish fence located near Tillicum Mall in Saanich has become an otter hot spot over the years.

Dorothy Chambers has gotten used to the sight of an otter scouting its next meal at the Colquitz River fish fence.

“Sadly, this year things are the same as last year,” said Chambers, a volunteer with Salmon in the City.

Every fall since 2001, her team has counted the incoming spawning coho in the area and reported the information to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which provides the team with funding.

Chambers says the fish fence, which is located near Tillicum Mall in Saanich, has become an otter hot spot over the years.

“We’ve had some years with 1,500 salmon return, and of late, less than 200, closer to 100 have been coming up,” said Chambers, who calls the otters “pesky.”

The fence is normally closed in order to direct the salmon into an adjacent trap where volunteers could then count and identify the fish. Volunteers then release the salmon back into the river, where they continue their spawning ritual upstream all the way to Beaver Lake.

But despite around $8,000 spent on renovations to the setup, the crafty mammals always seem to find a way into the trap.

“The juvenile otters are able to turn themselves sideways and get in through the small opening where the salmon come in,” said Chambers. “And the adults are circling around on the outside, waiting for us to lift the fish out of the trap.”

As a result, the volunteers have cancelled their salmon count for the second straight year and have decided to keep the fence open in order to mitigate the loss of salmon.

“Those pesky otters,” says Chambers.

The DFO told CHEK News they plan on removing the fence barrier permanently and are working to install motion sensor cameras, saying that removing the fence will leave the fish less vulnerable to predators while the camera will maintain the salmon count.

The move means volunteers will review the footage and continue to report information to the DFO. Chambers says although it means her team will be less hands-on, she’ll do whatever it takes to save the salmon.

“The most important thing right now is the health of the salmon,” said Chambers. “Each female carries 3,000 eggs and if they’re killed on their journey that’ll be three thousand eggs that don’t hatch.”

Other reasons for a low salmon count could include habitat loss and weather. The DFO says if the problem continues even with the changes, they have no plans to capture, relocate or euthanize the otters.

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Kevin CharachKevin Charach

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