Salmon struggled to swim up the shallow Chemainus River Monday, trapped in high gravel and awaiting rainfall.
The river now looks more like a gravel pit than the source of fierce flood waters of falls past, and the salmon’s need to spawn has turned into a race against time during this record low rainfall.
“It does seem like a late run. They’re stuck, yes but once the rains come, I think they’ll start moving more. It’s just lower flows, they tend to hold into the deeper pools,” said Tim Thomas, a fisheries technician with the Halalt First Nation.
Record low rainfalls and erosion have filled the Chemainus river with debris and rocks to such an extreme degree, that just a kilometre upriver from where salmon are piling up, the water is stagnant, like glass and not a salmon is to be found.
“They cannot make it here. The salmon cannot make it here so whatever they’re gonna do it’s gonna help the salmon to go up,” said North Cowichan resident France Bournazel.
Bournazel has given provincial and federal officials access to her riverfront property along the Chemainus in hopes it will help. The plan is to remove the mountains of gravel that have piled up in the river near the Trans-Canada Highway bridge, using excavators, to help the fish and reduce the risk of devastating flooding once rains arrive.
“To make the river more accessible, nothing is moving here. You don’t get no fish here. I don’t see one salmon,” said Bournazel.
The removal of gravel is expected to reduce flooding on area farms as well.
“They finally decided okay we’re going to do something,” said Bournazel, who owns Russell Farm Market, which the Chemainus River has flooded two falls in a row.
Meanwhile, the Halalt First Nation isn’t counting out this year’s salmon run either.
“I’m hopeful. Yeah I’m hopeful,” said Thomas.
With rain in the forecast, and now a plan in action, there’s confidence that the Chemainus River and all those who rely on it, will see better days ahead.