The Pacific Salmon Foundation announced two grants totaling $40,000 last week, which will help returning adult Chinook and coho migration on the Bonaparte River. A damaged man-made fishway near the mouth of the Bonaparte at Ashcroft, which historically enabled passage for salmon around a natural obstacle, is now preventing salmon from reaching their spawning grounds.
The funds will help the Secwepemc Fisheries Commission and Shuswap Nation Tribal Council install a new fish fence to capture salmon and transport them to spawning grounds upstream of the Bonaparte fishway. The first project, scheduled to start on July 1, is timed to help returning Chinook. The second project will start on Sept. 15, when coho return.
“There is an extremely limited amount of spawning habitat below the fishway, but well over 100 kilometres of habitat upstream,” says Aaron Gillespie, operations manager for the Secwepemc Fisheries Commission. “Without this project there will once again be a near complete loss of another year of Chinook and coho, just like our Steelhead stocks, which were prevented from migrating upstream last year. There are plans underway to fix the fishway this summer, but in the meantime many people are doing all that we can to try and get fish upstream to spawn.”
“In a really good year the Bonaparte has had returns of about 12,000 Chinook,” says says Michael Meneer, president and CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation. “Last year, it was estimated that only five fish made it past the fishway. There are many reasons for the serious declines in salmon and Steelhead in the Bonaparte. In a river with struggling population like these it is vital that we do everything we can to help fish get past the fishway until it is repaired.”
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has said that repairing the Bonaparte fishway is a “huge priority”. The rock foundation under the fishway divider wall, which was already undermined, was further eroded during flood events in the spring and early summer of 2018.
The fishway was built to help slow water flow for spawning salmon and Steelhead, but the river flow is now largely unimpeded, making the water too turbulent for fish to navigate. DFO has been working to repair the damages since 2017, but has been hampered by higher than usual water flows since the 2017 wildfires, and the difficulty of getting heavy equipment to the site.
Major work was done at the site earlier this year, but had to be stopped when water levels became too high. DFO hopes to be able to complete the work later this summer.
Biologists suspect that the Elephant Hill wildfire that raged over 192,000 hectares in 2017 significantly changed the forest soil, which is now less able to absorb water. This has resulted in changes to normal flows in the Bonaparte, with river discharge this past winter up to 500 per cent more than usual low-flow levels.
“Abnormal conditions are more frequently becoming the new normal in the salmon world,” says Meneer. “Our changing climate means inevitable changes to how salmon rivers function.”
The grants were part of $1.3 million in grants awarded to 151 projects in British Columbia and the Yukon. The total value of these projects, including matching donations of in-kind and cash at the community level, was $9.7 million.
The Community Salmon Program is largely supported through fees from the Salmon Conservation Stamp which is affixed to tidal fishing licenses, and which are required to retain Pacific salmon species in B.C. The Pacific Salmon Foundation receives 100 per cent of Stamp proceeds to redistribute as grants to community groups, which are added to donations from businesses and individuals, and proceeds from fundraising dinners.
The Pacific Salmon Foundation was created in 1987 as an independent, non-governmental, charitable organization to protect, conserve, and rebuild Pacific Salmon populations in British Columbia and the Yukon. The Foundation’s mission is to be the trusted voice for conservation and restoration of wild Pacific Salmon and their ecosystems, and works to bring salmon back stream by stream through the strategic use of resources and by supporting local communities. For more information go to www.psf.ca.