Brian Comey leads a walk down the side of McKay Creek in Heywood Park just off busy Marine Drive. The creek is roaring from a week of heavy rain. A few feet away children are playing on swings. He points to a bend in the creek where two long shadows seem to be lurking. They are two adult chum salmon, a female looking to spawn and a male “guarding” his mate. It is difficult to estimate their size in the rippling water, but they appear to be almost three feet long. In short, they are huge.
Huge fish in tiny McKay Creek? It’s hard to believe, but there they are. Mid November is when they usually arrive, but in 2016 they are early. They are also bigger chum than Comey has seen before. These two chum are the result of a lot of hard work put in by volunteers from the North Shore Fish and Game Club, who have carefully nurtured 33,000 eggs in the tiny hatchery hidden away in the washrooms at the park. From that vast number of eggs that turn into fry over the period of several months, perhaps only a few dozen will survive their journey out to the ocean and back, to spawn and die in the very creek where they were raised. The fry will be eaten by other salmon and birds, and caught by commercial and sports fishermen, with as few as one percent making it back “home.”
The Fish and Game club, in association with North Vancouver Streamkeepers and the Department of Fisheries, have made it their mission to revive several North Shore creeks to their former pristine condition. Many years of pollution ruined the creeks and killed the fish, but the work of volunteers is paying off. McKay Creek now supports chum and coho salmon, pinks in alternate years, and a year round supply of tiny cutthroat trout too elusive to actually see.
While the spawn occurs in the fall, work goes on all year inside the hatchery. Eggs are mixed and stored in cabinets until they develop an “eye,” then fed until they become fry, and finally are released into the creek in March. The word about the release is put out and families show up in droves, with up to 200 people arriving of the day of the release. Children are handed buckets that they tote the short distance from the hatchery to the creek, where they deposit the fry into the water. Sometimes the event includes a big hot dog party.
Spawned carcasses provide nutrients back into the creek, and provide food for animals such as coyotes and crows. Who knows? There might even be mink or martin living the park. The North Shore possesses a wonderland of wildlife surprises right in the middle of an urban environment. Monster fish? Who knew? For more information, log on to the North Shore Fish and Game Club at http://www.nsfgc.ca/.
By staff writer