Canada Clears the Way for Salmon

Canadians assist wild salmon’s journey upstream.

Jul 28, 2020

When people think of Canadian animals, they imagine grizzly bears, wide-antlered moose, or geese flying in formation. Salmon, a very important Canadian species, may not first come to mind. This mighty and tenacious fish migrates some 2,000 miles every summer, swimming upstream in Canadian rivers.

Today, salmon need man’s help to complete their journey. And in western Canada, thanks to the work of volunteers, the clearing of river beds, and the construction of fish ladders, help is on its way.

Salmon are large and powerful just like the Canadian rivers they swim up. The largest, according to the National Wildlife Federation, measures up to five feet and weighs 100 pounds. They are also anadromous, which means they live in freshwater when they are young, travel to the sea as adults and return to freshwater to spawn and die.

Salmon are essential to the Coast Salish who live along the Canadian Pacific. The First Nations tribes consider salmon to be a symbol of fertility, prosperity, and renewal and salmon has always been their primary food source. Grizzly bears, killer whales, orcas, sea lions, and seals also feed on salmon.

The destruction of salmon’s spawning habitat, disease spread by fish farming, and overfishing, have depleted salmon to a dangerously low level according to The World Wildlife Foundation. It has even affected killer whales, who feed on chinook salmon, putting them on the endangered species list.

Canada is taking this to heart. On June 19, 2020 Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced it would temporarily prohibit anglers from fishing the endangered Fraser chinook salmon. Canadians are also helping salmon along their precarious journey upstream by assisting them up and over river blocks made by man and by nature.

A culvert  in Millstream Creek,  just outside Victoria, British Columbia, has impeded the salmon from swimming upstream. Volunteers have been working on constructing the Millstream fish ladder to help fish bypass this challenging section of the river. 

 The ladder consists of 14 step pools to help coho salmon and trout up and through the culvert and will add another seven kilometers to their habitat according to the Times Colonist. Thanks to provincial and federal aid, this project will finally be completed in the next few months. Locals expect thousands of coho salmon will return to their spawning area.

A seven-hour drive northeast of Victoria takes one to the Fraser River, the largest spawning river in the world. In December, 2018, canyon walls crashed into a remote area of the river, rendering it impassable. The Big Bar landslide went unnoticed; that is, until the blocked salmon congregated.

Government workers and the First Nations sprang to action, working long days to clear out the boulders. They used nets, drones, and dynamite to give the fish free passage.

According to The Guardian, some 30,000 salmon were rescued and ferried over by helicopter. Rescuers are still working today, constructing a pneumatic tube along the canyon wall. This “salmon cannon,” along with a fish ladder, will soon be in place to further assist the salmon migration.

Another 26-hour-drive north takes one to Whitehorse, Yukon, home to the world’s longest fish ladder. The Whitehorse Fishway was constructed to assist chinook salmon and grayling past the Whitehorse Rapids Dam. The ladder measures 11,082 feet and climbs 60 vertical feet.

An underwater viewing center allows visitors to watch the fish on this part of their arduous journey. Anyone who is interested in viewing this incredible feat of nature can watch via the fish cam operated by Yukon Energy. Best viewing time is August, when some 1,000 salmon swim by. 

Canadians are racing to save their cherished salmon. Ian Bruce, of the Peninsula Streams Society told the Times Colonist, “It’s kind of giving back in one sense to fish so that they have an opportunity to access habitat that they can’t without our help.”

The Canadian people are playing a special role in conservation. Looking to the future, salmon could return to being a symbol of renewal; their abundance will help resuscitate the rich traditions of the Coast Salish as well as ensure the protection of the killer whale and grizzly bear.

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NICOLE NATHAN BEM, CONTRIBUTOR
Nicole is an editor, blogger and author who has recently left her urban life in order to be more connected with nature. In her spare time, she’s outdoors hiking in the forest, mountain biking or tending to her new permaculture garden.