In light of eroding spawning beds in Swift Creek, Tourism Valemount is asking for council’s blessing to explore the possibility of constructing a salmon hatchery.
In a report to council, the tourism committee notes the number of salmon seen at the George Hicks spawning area has “declined dramatically” in recent years. The report notes the salmon are still coming to the area, but they are spawning in places not easily viewed by the public; the fine gravel needed by the fish to lay their roe has been washed away.
Tourism Valemount gave two recommendations to council in the Sept. 11th council agenda: one is to explore the possibility of doing habitat enhancement work in the salmon spawning area at George Hicks Park (west of Hwy 5). The other is to explore building a salmon hatchery.
The committee notes a solution could be to place boulders in appropriate spots so the fine gravel naturally accumulates in the eddies created by the rocks.
“As spawning salmon are a tourism draw for Valemount, it`s important that visitors who make trips here to see the salmon are not disappointed,” the report says. “Salmon habitat enhancement should be done soon to insure that they will be seen at George Hicks Park.”
The committee notes this could be the first step to a bigger project, which would be the construction of a salmon hatchery in Valemount. A hatchery would expand the salmon-viewing season, by having hatchery tours during the seasons when salmon are not in the creek. Once consultation has been done on the type of enhancements needed and approval is obtained, application could be made to the Columbia Basin Trust Environmental Fund and also to Castle Creek IPP for fish enhancement money.
The initial information-gathering and approval stage could be done by existing Tourism Valemount staff within the current operating budget.
The report comes at a time when the village is also considering how to maintain Swift Creek without dredging the creek bottom.
The severe erosion of Swift Creek in June 2012 resulted in a rapid build up of sediment and debris in the in-stream reservoir, risking Valemount’s water intake. The normally four metre deep reservoir was reduced to less than half a metre. Through collaboration with the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Provincial Ministry of the Environment, the Village was able to dredge the reservoir in the short time frame before spawning season for salmon. According to acting CAO Anne Yanciw, the approval from both ministries was provided reluctantly, and both ministries have had serious conversations with the Village, indicating that it is unlikely they will be supportive of another dredging of the reservoir, due to the impact on fish habitat. The reservoir requires regular dredging even without an erosion event so in another 1-3 years, the Village will be faced with the dilemma of a filled in reservoir, and government reluctance to approve dredging.
The village is currently looking at options that would decrease the need for dredging.
With council approval, Tourism Valemount plans to contact Federal Fisheries and the Regional District of Fraser Fort George to explore the possibility of working collaboratively to do salmon habitat enhancement work in the George Hicks Park area in the short term, and to discuss the possibility of developing a salmon hatchery in Valemount as a long-term project.