Six fat salmon flitting through the rapids in Coquitlam's Hoy Creek are the early guests to a party marking the return of the salmon to the region.
Volunteers with the Hoy-Scott Watershed Society counted the three spawning chum pairs during a fish count last Sunday (Oct. 10) and dozens more salmon are expected to arrive in the coming days as heavy rains raise water levels in the Fraser and Coquitlam rivers.
To mark the occasion, the stewardship group and the City of Coquitlam are hosting the Salmon Come Home festival, which takes place Sunday, Oct. 24 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
There will be a free outdoor event requiring pre-registration as well as self-guided events. (More details below).
SALMON PASS BY COQUITLAM HOMES AND BUSINESSES
Hatchery manager Tyler Storgaard said last year was big for salmon returns due to natural cycles and, while numbers won’t be as significant this year, said he expects more salmon to return in the coming days — including small coho.
Typically chum salmon stay in the lower reaches of the Coquitlam River watershed while coho fight their way further upstream. Larger chinook require deeper water and only rarely make their way up local creeks, Storgaard said.
“They enter out by the airport from the open waters of ocean, traverse the Fraser, to Coquitlam and head up the Coquitlam River,” he explained, describing the annual journey to the local watershed.
The fish enter the Hoy/Scott creek system near the Como Lake substation and make their way up the creeks, which flow through industrial and residential areas, including Coquitlam Town Centre where the hatchery is located.
Storgaard, who grew up in the Tri-Cities, is elated when the salmon return because it signifies their resilience.
CARELESSNESS CAN KILL COQUITLAM SALMON
But he’s also frustrated when people take the natural environment for granted, dumping construction waste, ear plugs and PPE along Aberdeen Avenue in an industrial area near where Scott and Hoy creeks diverge.
Careless washing of paint, automotive soap and other materials down storm drains has also caused problems for salmon in the creeks, sometime killing them before they are mature enough to swim to the ocean.
In 2019, for example, a chemical spill of unknown origin caused a mass fish kill in the creek.
“When you see paint dumped blatantly down a drain, you see people dumping waste into the creeks, it ends up in the lifecycle,” Storgaard said.
Storgaard, an avid recreational angler, has a tidal license to fish near Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii and an in-tidal license to fish in B.C.’s interior.
He took on the voluntary position to “give back” and hopes the Salmon Come Home Festival will remind people about the importance of protecting the watershed.
“It’s a place we all love to be in,” the Port Coquitlam resident said, “We like the beauty of the trees and the natural processes that occur, people love to see the wildlife, we have to remember they (salmon) were here before us.”
SALMON COME HOME — HERE'S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Registered participants for Salmon Come Home on Oct. 24 may visit the Hoy Creek hatchery facility and rearing pond, view live salmon, and learn about returning salmon species from members of the Hoy-Scott Watershed Society and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).
For those who enjoy self-guided activities, the city is providing instructions for a family-friendly scavenger hunt –– seeking items such as a spider web or pinecone — as well as a map of places in Coquitlam to watch the salmon fight their way upriver.
One of several suggested locations is Hoy Creek Linear Park, where new interpretive signs were installed in 2020.