If you paid a visit to the Swift Creek salmon spawning grounds near the Valemount Visitor Information Centre during spawning season last year, you may have noticed fewer fish.
The same number may be spawning in Swift Creek as in the past, but they aren’t spawning at the tourist viewing area.
Bruce Wilkinson, who helps run the Valemount Visitor Information Centre, says the decline in the salmon visible from the viewing bridge is an issue for Valemount’s tourism economy. Last summer, the information center received three to 10 calls a week from tourists wondering if the salmon were spawning in Valemount, he says. Many people also attend the salmon talks that the info center provides.
But with fewer salmon, come fewer tourists. In 2011 there were 302 people that attended the salmon talks. Last year there were only 222, a 26 per cent decrease from the previous year.
One of the main problems the salmon face is the damage caused by last year’s flooding and mudslides, that washed away some of the gravel the salmon need for laying eggs.
Wilkinson and others are looking into ways they could enhance the stream around the viewing area so people can continue to observe and learn about the spawning salmon. One solution is to put large rocks in the stream to collect gravel and spread it around the viewing area. With increased fine gravel, salmon would be able to spawn near the viewing area, and would delight tourist that came to see them.
Another more radical idea is a salmon hatchery. In a hatchery, workers would collect salmon eggs, fertilize them, and let them grow. Once the fish have hatched and matured enough to go into the river system they are released. This would increase the amount of fish coming back. There is a downside, however. When salmon are still eggs, they imprint on the stream they are hatched in. When they grow up, they come back to the stream they were born in to spawn and die. This means that the hatchery could only raise a certain amount of fish because Swift Creek can only support so many spawning salmon. If there are too many spawning salmon at once, they will fight and destroy each other’s nests.
A hatchery is not something on the table right now, but Wilkinson says they are looking into stream enhancements. Nothing has been approved by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans but members of the department have visited the location and assessed stream conditions.
“They are still designing a step-by-step plan that we would have to take to repair the creek and enhance the spawning beds, so it will be a while.”
That being said, Wilkinson hopes to see enhancement work starting on the creek within the next few months.