At the KEEPS fish fench on Kanaka Creek in Maple ridge. (KEEPS/Special to The News)

At the KEEPS fish fench on Kanaka Creek in Maple ridge. (KEEPS/Special to The News)

Salmon groups happy with returns in Maple Ridge systems

KEEPS and ARMS says chum were back in health numbers in Kanaka Creek and Alouette River

Both hatchery operators in Maple Ridge are encouraged by the salmon returns they have seen this fall and winter.

The Kanaka Education and Environment Partnership Society (KEEPS) operates a fish fence where Kanaka Creek meets 240th Street, and society spokesperson Ross Davies said they have seen an estimated 6,000 chum at the fence – an encouraging number.

“The chum returns were very pleasing – they were quite strong,” he said. “It was one of the strongest chum returns I’ve seen in 20 years.”

In late October, Kanaka Creek was full of fish at the fence.

“It was like those times Gramps talked about, where you could walk across the creek on their backs,” said Davies. “We had that at the fence.”

The coho salmon returns were also solid, with an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 fish at the fence, he said.

In the year of COVID-19, a lot of people came to the fish fence for a socially distanced outing in nature. Davies was gratified that they could witness a bonafide salmon run.

“This year, when nothing’s normal, at least that was,” he said. “And I think it did a lot of good, for a lot of people, to see that.”

The smell of all the dead salmon was a bit much for some fish fence visitors. Davies tells them it’s “the aroma of biological prosperity.”

KEEPS takes salmon to provide brood stock for the Bell-Irving Hatchery on 256th Street, which is run in partnership with the non-profit society, Metro Vancouver and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The Alouette River Management Society (ARMS) also reports healthy returns at its fish fence at the Allco Fish Hatchery. It is located off Alouette Road near the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women.

After alarmingly low returns last year, the chum returned to the Alouette in 2020.

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“It was definitely better returns than we’ve seen in recent years,” said ARMS executive director Greta Borick-Cunningham.

Her group had already counted 11,324 adult chum returning to the fish fence as of Nov. 12, which was up from 1,300 in last year’s disastrous run.

The 2020 return was a small number compared with 129,000 chum in 2012, but the stats are trending in the right direction, she said.

Chum are the most hardy spawners on the system.

“Chum seem to adapt very easily to changes in the river,” said Borick-Cunningham. “They’re not as fussy about where they’ll go to spawn.”

ARMS also saw 85 sockeye salmon in July and August, which is a big number for the Alouette, she explained. It is the best return since 2010, and there have been years when they could count the sockeye returns on one hand.

Coho are still spawning, and there were 115 as of Nov. 12.

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