Volunteers race to save salmon in drying Cowichan River


WATCH: An urgent rescue is underway on rapidly drying out sections of the Cowichan River as temperatures heat up. Salmon fry that are trapped in small pools and unable to swim out due to increasing drought conditions are getting help.

Volunteers set out nets in hand Tuesday over dry gravel beds that should still be ten feet underwater to free some of the tiniest casualties of Vancouver Island’s climate change.

“Make sure we get all the fry out that we can,” Parker Jefferson of the Cowichan Lake & River Stewardship Society told the group.

“If we don’t do this they don’t have a chance,” said volunteer Kirk Coombs.

Coho salmon fry are trapped by the thousands in shallow, rapidly warming pools along the Cowichan River and the tributaries leading into it, by low water levels and drought conditions.

“This is shaping up to be the worst year yet for the Cowichan watershed,” said Parker Jefferson.

“It’s likely that we will run out of water by the end of July at this point.”

“These pools should be like ten feet deep,” said Carsten Hunter of Cowichan Lake & River Stewardship Society.

“Deep and cool and this is what you’re seeing. So this is happening all over the place.”

In past years, the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society has started this netting and relocation of salmon fry to cooler, deeper waters in July.

This year it began in early May.

“If we don’t get them out of here in the next few weeks all these pools will be dry,” said Jefferson.

“And all these fish will be lost…we’re doing what we can to keep these fish alive.”

“It feels like a good thing to do,” said Hunter.

“It also feels like a small band-aid on a big wound.”

So this coming weekend in Nanaimo stewardship groups will come together from across Vancouver Island to discuss the emerging crisis they’re seeing around their waterways and what they plan to do together to help.

“The whole of Vancouver Island has so many situations like this,” said Hunter.

So volunteers plan to be out as long as it takes, to save every last salmon on the Cowichan that they can.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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