Salmon have not spawned in Still Creek for three years

Ali Pitargue / December 2nd, 2019

Salmon have not returned to Still Creek in Burnaby for three years.
(Ali Pitargue / BCIT News)

Salmon are not returning to any small creeks in Burnaby.

In 2012, the City of Burnaby saw to the restoration of Still Creek, ending an 80-year drought of salmon spawning in the area. Hundreds of salmon returned to the creek after it was recovered, but in recent years, the numbers have dramatically plummeted. Now, biologists have reported that no salmon have surfaced in Still Creek for the past three years.

Signs most commonly point to climate change and the lack of habitat rehabilitation efforts.

Ken Ashley with the BCIT’s Rivers Institute says it could be due to a multitude of unknown factors that originate further away from the creek. He cited the possibility of salmon dying before they reach Burnaby creeks.

“They may have all died out at sea or they may have been eaten by seals. They may have even died in the first rain runoff event.” – Ken Ashley, BCIT Rivers Institute Director

According to Ashley, salmon are one of the hardest fish to manage. He said that in order to enhance salmon runs in local creeks, it would take considerable financial investment from the city, as well as meticulous labour from stream keepers.

Ashley also pointed out that diagnosing the cause of the salmon deficiency is key to revitalizing the stream.

“You have to figure out what’s causing them to not return, which means somebody would have to be going out and looking at these streams and doing regular counts and looking at possible issues of urban runoff-related contamination which could kill them.” – Ken Ashley

Ashley also indicated a possible link between lower survival rates in the ocean and low return rates in local streams.  He specifically pointed to a phenomena called “ocean ranching”, a fish farming practice that releases underdeveloped fish into the ocean, where they are deprived of sustainable growing conditions.

Ashley said that regions like China, Japan, Russia, and the American state of Alaska engage in ocean ranching. They release juvenile fish into the Pacific, where they can not muster enough food to eat, and hence do not make it to stream.

Warming water temperatures also pose a challenge to salmon’s life expectancy in the open ocean.

Ken Ashley cited many possibilities where salmon may have died before reaching Still Creek.
(Ali Pitargue / BCIT News)

BCIT’s ‘Inspire’ Campaign to amp up conservation of Guichon Creek

Inspire, BCIT’s campaign to renew its campuses, will support the Rivers Institute’s sustainability efforts of Guichon Creek. It is a neigbouring stream to Still Creek in Burnaby, where it faces similar issues fo salmon run drought.

Ken Ashley told BCIT News that for every new building constructed at the Burnaby campus nearby, the school will daylight a section of Guichon Creek. Daylighting is a process that halts concrete or wood from covering the stream, leading to a more efficient water flow.

He said that BCIT will have to work with the City of Burnaby as well as other stakeholders in order to get salmon to return to Guichon Creek.

“I have faith that they’ll be well looked after, but the [salmon] have to get here in the first place. It really means the salmon are swimming through Burnaby Lake, then up the Brunette river, Burnaby Lake and Still Creek before they get to Guichon Creek. So, all the partners have to be on board and make sure the salmon get here.” – Ken Ashley

Ashley said the creek would possibly be upgraded in 10 to 15 years as the school plans on building more environmentally-sustainable infrastructure.