Mid Season Update:
Things upriver at the weir camp are in a constant flux. The great outmigration of sockeye smolts has come and gone, along with the operation of the rotary screw trap, which we used to enumerate and PIT tag the sockeye smolts as they made their journey from Koeye lake out to the ocean. The smolt trap season went off without a hitch and we collected loads of high quality data that will prove invaluable in our ability to better understand and predict future sockeye runs at Koeye and elsewhere within Heiltsuk territory. While the smolt trap season was winding down, we began to prepare the materials for the weir build.
This is the third season that Qqs has operated a traditional style weir on the Koeye, and with each season under our belt comes a smoother approach to the building and operating of the weir. Starting in early May, we spent our afternoons (post smolt trap duties) hand-splitting slender pickets out of a cedar log that washed up on the beach at Koeye. We also harvested cedar saplings to form the tripods of the weir, and transported the logs up to the weir site. With all the logs upriver we began the tedious task of removing their bark, which will help the logs last longer out in the elements.
When all of the picket panels were repaired and completed we began the final install of the weir. The build took two full days of heavy lifting, lashing and hammering… but the process went very smoothly. As you can see in the video link below, we constructed the weir in sections. First, the tripods were nailed and lashed together, and then carried out into the water. Once all eighteen tripods were in the water, we weighed them down with large boulders in order to counteract the buoyancy of the cedar and add stability. The next day we installed the panels of pickets and trap boxes and made sure there were no gaps that a determined sockeye could sneak through.
Check out some video footage here: https://vimeo.com/131378375
The finished weir spans 180 feet across the full width of the river. It is located at the upper limit of tidal influence, roughly 4 kilometres upstream from the mouth of the Koeye. It has been roughly three weeks since the weir has been operational, and we’ve had two staff monitoring the weir 24 hours a day since it went in the water. There is a tremendous amount of responsibility that comes with the act of impeding salmon along their migration to spawning grounds, and we as stewards must take every precaution to ensure the wellbeing and safe passage of each sockeye that passes through our weir. Staff at the weir camp live at the mercy of the sockeye, and we respond quickly when sockeye enter the trap boxes at any hour of the day (often between the middle of night and pre-dawn). We take the length of each sockeye as well as scale samples, and then we insert two colour coded visual tags on either side of their dorsal fin in order to allow us to re-sight these individuals during snorkel surveys upstream of the weir. Re-sighting these fish upstream and later on their spawning grounds will allow us to better understand their in-river migration patterns, growth and survival.
Up until recently the river has been extremely low due to the lack of rain. As the residents of the Central Coast know, this season has been abnormally dry and we recorded only a few millimetres of rain between May 2 and June 18th (see photo below of the river at its lowest level in June).This lack of rain has definitely had an affect on the start of sockeye riverine migration, and as result, our tag numbers at the weir have been very low. We had the weir up and running on May 31st this year and we were only able to tag 24 fish in the first 19 days of operation. We had a feeling that the first rain would bring a long night of tagging, and we were right. With a modest rain event on June 19th, the river levels raised enough to lure a wave of sockeye upriver. We nearly doubled our tagging numbers for the first 19 days in one night by tagging 22 adult sockeye between midnight and 6:30 AM on June 20th! All we need now is more rain events to keep these sockeye on the move up to the lake while the weir is in the water (until the end of July).
Now that there are more than a handful of tagged fish upstream of the weir, we will carry on with snorkel surveys in order to track fish movement in the river. We will be snorkelling the length of river from the lake outlet all the way down to the weir, roughly 6 kilometres of river.
In other news… we were delighted to be visited by the 7th graders the past couple of days, and we had a great time showing them what our day to day is like working and living at the weir and conducting other research around Koeye. We were able to do some beach seining at the river mouth in front of the kids camp, where the kids got to take a close look at some of the aquatic diversity that the Koeye river estuary supports. Later the kids made the trip upriver to get a look at the weir and learn more about how it works and why we are operating it. It was great to have the first group of kids out to Koeye, and we are getting excited for the return of the annual kids camp at Koeye, which is coming up soon!