What’s going on in Coho Creek?

Black eggs in spawning salmon are “not normal but not abnormal” – DFO fish health vet, Chris MacWilliams.

Black eggs in spawning salmon are “not normal but not abnormal” – DFO fish health vet, Chris MacWilliams.

ARMS heard this from community advisor Sandie Hollick-Kenyon after it sent the DFO photos of black eggs in Coho Creek spawners. Hollick-Kenyon quoted Maurice Coulter Boisvert, another DFO advisor: “The female was from a tributary of the Alouette River – Coho Creek – found during spawner escapement numeration.

The small stream can be heavily influenced by stormwater, which could lead to low oxygen levels, Coulter-Boisvert said.

“It could be a combination of anything in storm water – antifreeze, oil, brake line material, paint thinner. It can all end up in a stream.”

He noted Coho Creek runs along agricultural ditches, which could have low oxygen content.

In his opinion, water quality tests are “the only way” to find out what they are, and what’s causing them.

Would DFO conduct a streams investigation, I later asked Hollick-Kenyon.

She said the fish health vet’s findings didn’t indicate any reason for that.

“I’m pretty sure an investigation wouldn’t be warranted at this time. We don’t have a water quality unit. It would be a challenge at this time.

“Are you a stream keeper?” she added.

“Yes.”

“That’s something – monitoring, testing – that could be done by stream keepers. That’s what we’d encourage.”

So, low oxygen and pollutants entering storm drains equals black egg?

Mystery solved.

Maybe not.

“I don’t see how they [DFO] could jump to the conclusion that storm drains are the problem,” said Maple Ridge environmental officer Rodney Stott.

He said improved and more efficient water filtering measures have been in place around Millionaire Creek in recent years. He agreed, however, that irrigation ditches draining agricultural land could be sources of low oxygen in Coho Creek.

DFO doesn’t walk those ditches any longer, doesn’t look for “disruptions and disturbances” now that the Fish Act has changed to disenfranchise aquatic life in ditches. No fish “of economic value,” so no need to check what’s being dumped into them.

Stott suggested DFO could regularly test ditches draining into Coho Creek and pass on information that everyone – the city, stream keepers – could use.

If Coho Creek has an oxygen deficiency, it happened in the past two years. A stream keeper course I attended on Coho then found all conditions ideal for salmon – clean water, good gravel, leafy cover to provide shade in heat, bugs to feed fry in the spring, and a normal and healthy oxygen level.

DFO has a duty to find out what went awry. Returns are dismal this year.

It would also have a better idea of how many chum to expect.

This fall, DFO guessed one healthy run of 1.3 million chum. It allowed a commercial opening. Fishermen returning with 12 fish shook their heads.

Coulter-Boisvert worried about having enough chum eggs for the school program.

Does DFO management really want to know what’s in ditches, or whether storm drains kill fish? If they did, they’d re-assign officers to walk streams, test waters, enforce laws, count salmon.

Doug Goslings still plans to give his community advisor the new batch of diseased eggs he found recently. They’re completely black. He wants testing in a DFO lab.

Doug Stanger plans to take his camera with him every time he walks a stream now.

ARMS is pleased that river stewardship groups are talking more about the problems streams and spawners face today, while wondering how long we’ll have wild salmon in our streams.

 

– Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.