By Korie Marshall

Ever wondered how the Chinook in Swift Creek are counted?

Chris Pharness is a biologist living in Prince George, who has been working with the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation doing the Robson Valley Stream Walks for the past three years.

Pharness says that in larger systems, the streams are surveyed by helicopter, flying at about tree level back and forth across the water, and the Chinook are spotted and counted from above. However because of tree cover and terrain, many smaller creeks need to be surveyed on foot.

This year, starting on Aug. 12, it took Pharness’ team three days to survey the streams of the Robson Valley by foot – Swift Creek, Small River, Holiday, Horsey, King (or Nevin), McKale, and the East and West Twin. He says they come back twice more, about a week apart, to count the Chinook throughout the month of August.

“Swift is the best creek as far as numbers go; it’s pretty strong,” says Pharnes. “I think there was a couple hundred fish, maybe better, in Swift Creek. I think it was the highest since I’ve been doing it.”

But he has spoken to local people by the viewing bridge who say they remember “when you could walk on the backs of the fish,” but he knows that people are often apathetic.

“When they ask you “How are they doing,” and you say “They are not doing great, the numbers aren’t like they were historically,” and they say “Aw, that’s too bad.” I always say to them, “well you just have to ask yourself what have you done lately for salmon enhancement?” Put your money into it if it bothers you.”

Pharness says the Chinook are important to the Lheidli because they are the first fish to come back to the streams, an important early food source, and they are big.

“Historically the Chinook come through earlier than the sockeye, so they are an early food source,” Pharnes says. He notes there is some dispute over whose territory the headwaters are, but both the Lhedli and the Simpcw would have utilized them.

Pharnes says they didn’t see any sockeye in Swift Creek, but he found it interesting that they had been spotted. He explained that sockeye are “lakeheaded,” meaning they normally spawn in a lake system at the top of a river or creek, and the juveniles will spend about a year in the lake before heading out to sea. He and a fellow biologist surmised that sometimes fish get disoriented, or they maybe just wander past where they were born.

“It’s kind of a natural thing in the salmon population because it keeps the genetics healthy, and if there is habitat that hasn’t been used or found yet… that is how they got there in the first place, by wandering,” says Pharness.

The Lheidli T’enneh do the Chinook surveys in the Fraser River as part of their fisheries program, and provide the information to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Les Jantz from the fisheries office in Kamloops told the Goat that once they receive the raw data from the Lheidli T’enneh, they do an estimate of the numbers of Chinook in the Fraser, and that will be released publically, but it won’t be available until mid December.

The Lheidli T’enneh’s traditional territory is based around Prince George, where the Nechako River meets the Fraser. According to the band’s website, the word Lheidli means “where the two rivers flow together,” and the word T’enneh means “the people.” Their traditional territory stretches as far as Valemount and the upper part of Kinbasket Reservoir, although there is overlap with the traditional territory of the Simpcw First Nations.