A creek that once saw a few hundred salmon come back to spawn is teeming with thousands of fish right now in a record return the Sechelt Indian Band (SIB) plans to celebrate next week.
“We’ve already seen 10,000 in Sechelt Creek and there are thousands more in the bay en route, so we think there are up around 16,000 salmon returning this year,” SIB resource director Sid Quinn said, noting the last return saw about 11,000 pink salmon come back to spawn.
He said this year’s record return is a vision SIB elders have had for a long time for the creek up Salmon Inlet, which is also home to a run-of-river power generating station operated by Regional Power.
The SIB partnered with Regional Power in 1997 when the 16-megawatt hydro station was put in, and soon after the two groups set about enhancing the local creek that was seeing low salmon returns.
“We did everything we could to naturally enhance that creek including bringing in some small native gravel that’s perfect for the salmon to lay their eggs in because what was here wasn’t ideal,” said James Carter, vice president of Regional Power.
Pink salmon return to spawn every two years and those returns have seen steady growth since the creek’s enhancement 15 years ago.
“We’ve basically gone from in the hundreds to in the thousands,” Quinn said, stressing all of the fish that spawn in the creek are wild and not farm-raised.
The enhanced 400-metre spawning channel was the first of its kind established in connection with a small hydro plant in B.C., and the effort won the Blue Planet award from the United Nations in 2005.
Despite the award and the project’s continued success, the SIB has yet to celebrate the accomplishment on site. That will change next week.
“One of our key strategic goals is to celebrate our accomplishments so that’s what we’re going to do on Sept. 6,” Quinn said, noting the SIB has invited dignitaries like the energy minister, local politicians and the premier to tour the site and learn more that day.
Among the sights on the tour will be a newly painted shíshálh image on the longhouse-style hydro building and a series of newly-erected signs detailing the project’s history. Guests may also get to witness pink salmon spawning just steps away from a creek-side trail.
“We want to show everyone how we can work with industry and the environment to enhance the natural habitat, which has great rewards for all of the diverse species in the area, whether eagle, bear, salmon or fisherman,” Quinn said.
He points to Regional Power’s willingness to work with the SIB as the reason the project has seen such success.
“It’s a different way of approaching this type of thing, and it’s something we think should be held up as a model for others,” Quinn added.