British Columbia

'They have to be magnificent animals to put up with what we throw at them': Chinook return to West Vancouver

When a volunteer Streamkeeper called in a sighting of chinook salmon from a creek in West Vancouver three years ago, no one believed him because the fish are not native to the Capilano watershed. Now it seems a population of hatchery chinook has taken up residence on the North Shore.

Fish have returned a second time, believed to be from the Capilano River Hatchery

President of the West Vancouver Streamkeepers Society, John Barker, watches as native chum return to the Capilano River watershed. He was so shocked by the arrival of chinook salmon three years ago he had to see the fish himself before he could believe it. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

Streamkeepers in West Vancouver are rejoicing at a "magical story" happening in their backyard — chinook salmon have found their a way up a local creek they don't usually use for spawning.

Streamkeepers say the arrival of the fish is a glimmer of hope after a season of record-low salmon returns in a number of fisheries.

Chinook are not native to Brothers Creek but Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been trying to introduce a self-sustaining chinook sport fishery in that area.

According to the West Vancouver Streamkeepers Society (WVSS), the chinook likely originated from the federally-run Capilano River Hatchery.

Fish out of their water

The first time chinook were reported in a West Vancouver watershed was three years ago when Mike Perley, a volunteer with the WVSS, happened upon the fish in a little creek.

"Chinook are big fish that need big water and I was not expecting them," he said.

That year, Perley witnessed the fish spawning in Hadden Creek, a small creek that flows into Brothers Creek.

"We were just cheering and watching them go up the creek and they spawned," he exclaimed.

John Barker, president of the WVSS, was so shocked he initially didn't believe Perley.

"I thought, 'You must know the difference between a chum and a chinook, my goodness.' He said, 'No John, they're chinook.' So I drove up to look at it," explained Barker.

"I think it's just a magical story. It tells you that the habitat is good. It tells you that the spawning areas are sufficient, that there's food quality, that the health of the streams are good," he said.

'Magnificent animals'

Volunteer Streamkeeper Mike Perley witnessed the spawning of chinook salmon in Hadden Creek in 2014. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

Barker says the assumption is that in 2014, the chinook were waiting to return to the Capilano River Hatchery, but mudslides in the area made the river water cloudy. 

"Finding the clear water of Brothers Creek, they had one alternative and that was to break off and steer left and go up Brothers Creek," he said, adding that the fish eventually ended up in little Hadden Creek. 

This year, the fish have only gone as far as Brothers Creek.

The Streamkeepers believe that's because the water level is lower than it was three years ago.

Since then, they have been eagerly awaiting the return of the chinook.

"They have to be magnificent animals to put up with what we throw at them," said Perley.

With files from Deborah Goble