It has long been a vision of the Alouette River Management Society, local municipal governments, professional biologists and Katzie First Nation to see the return of sockeye and other salmon to the upper Alouette River Watershed. The establishment of the Alouette Dam in 1928 blocked spawning migrations of sockeye, coho, chum, steelhead and possibly sea run cutthroat trout. These fish, especially sockeye salmon, are an important part of the culture and food supply of the Katzie First Nations.
Prior to dam construction, the Alouette system supported a sizeable sockeye population. Unlike other salmon species, sockeye require access to a lake to successfully complete their life cycle. Sockeye salmon rear in lakes as juveniles for approximately one year before migrating to the sea as smolts. With access to Alouette Lake obstructed by the Alouette Dam, sockeye salmon were extirpated from the Alouette Watershed and have remained so for over 70 years.
Migratory chinook, coho, pink, chum, steelhead and cutthroat trout would have also spawned and/or reared upstream of the dam. Chinook in particular utilized Gold Creek as their preferred natal stream. The dam reduced the range of habitat for these species, which continue to persist downstream of the dam.
In 2000, ARMS applied for funds from Bridge Coastal Fish and Wildlife Restoration Program to move forward with our dream of returning sockeye to the Alouette River. This application was turned down as a previous report, commissioned by BC Hydro, determined that it was not feasible to bring sockeye above the dam. BCRP advised that they would allocate $5,000 for a review of this report and ARMS hired Harvey Andersak to undertake this role. The earlier report was challenged which allowed ARMS to move forward.
In 2002 ARMS applied to Bridge Coastal Restoration Program for funds to determine the biological, physical and operational issues associated with return sockeye system. ARMS hired LGL Limited, based in Sydney, to study the amount of spawning grounds in the tributaries of the reservoir. Ward and Associates were hired to answer the questions of operations of the hydro dam. Both studies again returned with favourable results. To review this report, please see: www.bchydro.com/projects/docs/bridge_river/03AL03.pdf
The next step was to determine if sockeye returned and spawned successfully, where they would go when they emerged – over the spillway or through the tunnel leading into the Stave. There was also the question of whether they would survive the ride over the spillway and into the river. Bridge Coastal once again funded the project in 2004 and BC Hydro agreed to open the spillway for a few weeks in April and May.
Over 10,000 coho smolts, reared at the Fraser Regional Allco Fish Hatchery, were marked with various colours and transported for release in the Reservoir.
A rotary trap was placed at Mud Creek, located approximately 1.5 k downstream of the dam, to assess the number of coho that successfully emerged from the reservoir. Once again ARMS was delighted to find that all colour groups found their way to the Mud Creek trap.
What surprised us all was that kokanee, believed to be related to the original sockeye trapped behind the dam, also found their way over the spillway and into the trap. Over the period that the spillway was open, it was estimated that over 8000 kokanee (nicknamed sockanee) made their way downstream. Twenty five of these fish were tagged with temporary radio tags to see if they would survive the salt water. Two of these “sockanee” were tracked in Juan de Fuca Straight.
Bridge Coastal Restoration Program and BC Hydro agreed to fund a similar project the following year, submitted by Katzie First Nation with LGL Limited and ARMS as partners. This time we tested to determine if Steelhead would survive the spillway, which they did. Unfortunately, due to low levels in the reservoir, the spillway was not opened earlier enough to gather enough data on the kokanee.
Katzie, LGL Limited and ARMS have received word that the application has been approved for this spring. This year we will not be releasing any fish into the reservoir. BC Hydro has agreed to open the spillway mid April, contingent on reservoir levels. No fish were released this year as the previous two year test trials proved successful. The Rotary Trap was be installed at Mud Creek to count Kokanee “sockanee” escapement which preliminary numbers show to be approximately 70,000. Future projects regarding returning sockeye to the Alouette Watershed will be conducted under the Water Use Plan, once it has been approved by the Water Comptroller in Victoria.
Now that we have the science behind us that ensures us that it is possible for fish to emerge from the reservoir, we now face the question of will happen when they return to spawn.
A meeting was held in early 2007 to arrive at a plan for the anticipated return of the sockanee, perhaps as early as the fall of 2007. In attendance was Katzie First Nation, DFO, MOE, LGL, District of Maple History has dictated that the South Alouette River may have experienced an spring run of sockeye as well fall return.
It is hoped that funding will be obtained to see sockeye returned to the Alouette Watershed. Sockeye runs have been declining over the past century due to urbanization throughout the lower mainland. In addition has been detrimental to the local economy. The evidence that has been gathered on the potential to have this urban river rejuvenated and sockeye returned has been established. Sockeye are a very desirable fish and they are declining in numbers in the lower Fraser Valley.
ARMS. DFO and the Fraser Regional Community Hatchery are anticipating the return of sockeye salmon next fall with a larger run expected to return the following year. ARMS and the Fraser Regional Allco Community Hatchery are preparing for their arrival. Sockeye will be held temporarily at the Fraser Regional Upper Hatchery and then trucked up to the reservoir for release in the reservoir. DFO and MOE are applying for a permit to transport returning sockeye to the reservoir. Plans are underway to construct a new hatchery on property north of the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women. Funding must be found to assist with this project – labour and some materials have been confirmed through BC Corrections.