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Greater Victoria groups build a better bed to incubate salmon eggs in Bowker Creek

Severe rain storms nearly thwarted the chum project last year

Bowker Creek is ready to incubate its second round of thousands of chum salmon eggs after a volunteer crew took advantage of low water levels to build the needed infrastructure last week.

A group gathered Sept. 14 at the waterway near Monteith Avenue to shovel and haul gravel down to the riverbed and build a surrogate spawning bed, explained Kyle Armstrong of the Peninsula Streams Foundation.

“Because of the urban nature of this stream, it doesn’t have a lot of those substrates that salmon rely on to lay their eggs,” he said.

Peninsula Streams Foundation is a key partner in the project to bring salmon back to the creek, which meanders across Saanich, Victoria and finally Oak Bay where it dumps into the sea. Others crucial to the process, from permissions to funding, include the Friends of Bowker Creek Society, Goldstream Hatchery, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Pacific Salmon Foundation.

READ ALSO: Oak Bay woman tracks Bowker water, temperature levels to keep chum eggs healthy

“We have to prepare the gravel platform while there’s still low water and we can access the site,” Gerald Harris of the Friends of Bowker Creek explained.

It’s a process the team undertook for the first time last year, before the late fall atmospheric rivers dumped record-breaking amounts of water across the province and the incubation bed was washed away.

“We felt we’d built a substantial wall but we didn’t understand what was going to happen,” Harris said.

With DFO approval to plant the eggs in the incubator in February, volunteers scrambled to rebuild. Volunteers with the Goldstream Volunteer Salmonid Enhancement Association harvested 30,000 chum at the Goldstream Hatchery for the project, with the eggs maturing more quickly than anticipated and going into the creek a month early in January.

Volunteers spent the late winter and spring monitoring water levels and temperatures with chum fry emerging in April.

READ ALSO: Oak Bay society shares thrill of finding fish fry swimming in Bowker

“Last year’s eggs had reasonably good survival,” Harris said, adding they found 80 per cent had survived the egg stage. “That we believe largely related to that big storm, because it made us insert the incubation box into the ground in a place we … would have avoided.”

This year, Harris hopes the framing wall of boulders built Sept. 14 will stand sturdier as the team targets 90 per cent. They expect to plant thousands more eggs in the creek come February 2023 in the bid to bring salmon back to the creek that hasn’t seen them in decades.

“So far it’s a success,” Armstrong said. “We had chum emerge and hopefully are out in the Pacific right now growing and getting ready for their return back to this system in a few years time. We’ll just be bolstering that population this year and giving them some friends out there.”

READ ALSO: Out of the streambed gravel comes harbinger of waning pollution in Oak Bay creek


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Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

I'm dedicated to serving the community of Oak Bay as a senior journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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