Coho coming after big chum returns

Written by Tim Pardee for the Bowen Island Undercurrent
November 29, 2016

Male and female chum salmon

Male and female chum salmon spawn in the gravel below Bridal Veil Falls. Photo by Bob Turner

As this year’s incredible chum spawner return becomes a fond memory, we realize that all good things must come to an end. But wait, here come the coho!

Chum spawner returns to Bowen this year have been fantastic – we haven’t seen anything like them in well over 10 years. I’m told the 2002 return was significant but I wasn’t here then.

For almost four weeks in November, residents and visitors to Bowen have been observing chum from the causeway entering the lagoon to spawn in the gravel beds nearby or under Bridal Veil Falls. We estimate that more than 1,200 chum have spawned in the lagoon and about 100 chum have spawned in Davies Creek beside Bowfest Field. To put this in perspective, each of the last three years BIFWC volunteers have only seen a few chum returns out of the 200,000 chum fry raised at the Terminal Creek Salmon Hatchery in Crippen Park every year.

Chum do not climb fish ladders. Female and male chum usually die within 48 hours of spawning, so there are now many salmon carcasses in the lagoon and Davies Creek – a feast for eagles, otters, seals and seagulls. Chum returns peaked the week ending Nov. 11 and have declined since then.

Coho begin spawning as the chum spawn ends and, historically on Bowen, I’m told coho spawn through December right into January. On Nov. 14, three coho were observed in the spawning bed near the causeway. On Nov. 17, an observant BICS Grade 4/5 student noticed a coho slowly enter the Lagoon before swimming toward Bridal Veil Falls. To say the least, a very exciting moment for all 30 of us.

Coho are powerful swimmers. This week several people have observed coho attempting (unsuccessfully) to swim and jump up the rapids to the top of Bridal Veil Falls. Our hope is that they will retreat then locate and climb the fish ladders which will allow them to access spawning gravel in Terminal and Killarney creeks. Each spring, BIFWC volunteers release coho fry into the following Bowen fresh water creeks which they may return to over the next six weeks: Terminal, Killarney, Davies, Grafton and Explosives (Tunstall).

These photos should help all you observant streamkeepers out there. Chum are a mottled grey colour while coho are dark red. We’re not likely to see chum much longer but hopefully we’ll observe coho through December. Please note that coho are more difficult to observe – they usually don’t spawn near the causeway and like to hide under cutbacks in creeks during the day and spawn at night.

It’s so rewarding for BIFWC salmon enhancement volunteers to see the excitement in our community. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a trend toward larger salmon spawner returns to Bowen in the future.

Thank you for supporting wild salmon.