Rescuers save stranded salmon from drying pools in Cowichan River


Armed with a pail and a net, Joe Saysell set out to save some of his wild neighbours.

“We gotta help them as much as we can,” said the Lake Cowichan resident.

Saysell has lived on the Cowichan River his entire life, and said he’s seen the river’s levels drop faster than ever in recent summers. Now the drought is leaving young fish fry and crayfish trapped in small pools and channels within the bigger river.

“Especially with this heat. Right now, this river’s going to warm up to pretty hot. So that crayfish or these tiny little fry, we’ve gotta get them out of these tiny little areas, where they’re stranded,” said Saysell.

Teams of biologists hired by Crofton’s Paper Excellence Pulp & Paper Mill, are also salvaging all the fry they can on the Cowichan.

Friday, company officials dropped water levels flowing from the Cowichan Lake weir into the Cowichan River to 4.5 cubic metres per second, to conserve water to last through the summer.

“Right now things are very difficult. With the low lake level, it’s questionable if we will get through to the fall rains without the lake running empty,” said Brian Houle, Environmental Manager of Paper Excellence’s Crofton mill.

According to Houle, pumps may be needed later this summer to save the Cowichan from running dry, as they did in 2019.

“And we just need to keep the river at 4.5 [cubic metres per second] until the fall rains arrive,” said Houle.

So there’s an urgency to the salvaging of fry, as river levels drop and temperatures rise. Workers estimate there’s only about a week left to salvage the fry from small pools before they are gone for good.

“They’re doing the best they can but with climate change, no snowpack and hardly any rain, this is what we’re faced with,” said Saysell.

As of Friday, over 12,000 fish had been saved from drying pools and more were expected to be found in the days ahead.

Skye Ryan

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