Salmon, sturgeon all around us

Trek to spawning streams, Part 2: salmon, sturgeons, and sasquatches.

Salmon, sturgeon all around us

“I wonder if Arnold Sturgeon-ator died of loneliness,” Janis said on the platform overlooking the sturgeon pool at Inches Creek Fish Hatchery.

My wife and I left off near here two weeks ago on our annual salmon pilgrimage to Weaver Creek Spawning Channel, but ran out of daylight after searching for Hawkins Creek.

In 1979, I counted pink and chum in Hawkins up the road from Inches. Gravel removal in nearby Norrish Creek lowered the water table and Hawkins – fed by Norrish – disappeared.

For years, Arnold, a spiny, seven-metre monster sturgeon slipped under the feet of Chinese tourists and the Grade 6 kids I bused up the Fraser River for our salmonid enhancement unit in science.

“Kids love all living things,” I recalled.  “They said it was mean to sentence Arnold to isolation and monotony.”

“What did he die of?” Janis asked.

I pointed to a woman near a DFO shed.

“Told me Arnold was 70, and something else that surprised me … he wasn’t a guy.”

“A carefully designed secret?”

“Amber Sturgeon-ator wouldn’t ‘pump you up’ like one named Arnold. When the big fish died, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans found two 10 footers to replace her.”

“One of each sex?”

“They don’t breed them. Arnold again, a male this time, and Henry – an odd couple about 50. The F.O. said all information must come from Communications, but took a chance on telling me that.”

You had to search dark water to detect Arnie 2 and Hank. One Chinese tourist didn’t.

“Only one fish, too small,” he complained. “Bigger in Oregon. Better for me.”

Back at the highway, we crossed Nicomen Slough, a body of Fraser River water that surrounds farmland.

The Slough – a popular sports fishery – has had 75-1,500 coho and 400-3,500 chum over the years. But farming has its impacts. “This stream contains very good gravel, but over the years it has become covered with silt and plant growth,” notes the catalogue.

The Sasquatch Café sits on the corner of the Highway and Morris Valley Road, the turn off to Weaver Creek. Near here, in the 80’s, a Greyhound passenger screamed, “Look, a sasquatch!” The driver, jumped out, and sped after it, but the hairy beast  eluded his grasp.

“I was so close,” panted the driver, “I could smell it.” Later, the passenger and his buddy – the stinky sasquatch – confessed the hoax.

Chehalis Flats, (100,000 chum in 1978) just before the Hatchery on Morris Road, is an estuary where the Chehalis and Harrison rivers meet. We sip hot chocolate, and watch eagles contemplating a feast.

The parking lot at Weaver Creek Channel (20,269 sockeye, 1,747 chum, 1,101 pink to date) is full. DFO hasn’t promoted this successful collaboration of man and nature. Why no displays of indigenous fishing methods, or smoked salmon and native art?  People should be in uniform proudly relaying the salmon life cycle and the history of a rich commercial fishery decimated by poor management and habitat abuse.

A bit up the road, Sakwi Creek (pink, chum, coho) joins Weaver. In ’79, both creeks were so thick with fish you could walk across their backs. The overflow dug redds in ditches destined to dry up. DFO  didn’t expand the spawning area.

At dusk we headed home. “Are escapements better now, or worse than ’79?” Janis asked.

“I’ll find out,” I said, “look for a recent catalogue, talk to DFO in Mission.”

I assumed – naively – DFO would still be monitoring streams closely, using escapement numbers to predict  adult returns along the Fraser River to intelligently plan openings for commercial and sports fishing.

I assumed – naively – escapements would guide protection and enhancement efforts.

Getting the facts wasn’t easy, and what I discovered shocked me more than Arnold’s secret life as a female.

… to be continued.