Salmon channel undergoes restoration to bolster population

Salmon habitat restored

A salmon rearing channel on the Bonaparte River was restored by the Bonaparte First Nations and the B.C. Wildlife Federation.

The original 500-metre channel was doubled in length, with more than 4,000 new willow cuttings, woody debris, and boulders added to replicate a coho salmon’s habitat.

Three kilometres of fencing were also added to keep livestock out of the riparian area along both sides of the channel, and along one kilometre of the adjacent Bonaparte River.

“The fencing was basically rotten, the channel was starting to infill, and all the cuttings and trees they planted had grown in so thick it was just kind of clogging the place up,” said Bonaparte CEO Sean Bennett.

“It was reducing and restricting the groundwater flow coming up into the channel.”

Juvenile coho typically rear in groundwater refuges, as they don’t freeze in the winter and remain a little cooler in the summer.

Bennet’s master’s degree research on the Coldwater River found that thermoregulated groundwater channels are incredibly productive, with five to six fry per square metre.

“It’s just a huge difference in habitat quality,” Bennett said. “That’s why it was so important to give this channel a renovation.”

The existing coho were pulled from the channel by the BCWF before work was reportedly done. According to Bennett, the salmon looked healthy but there was only a dozen.

“This is our third project with the BCWF, and that partnership is key to getting where we both want to go with respect to increasing salmon and wildlife populations, and we all benefit down the road,” said Bennett.

A flow gate will be installed over the summer to simulate a spring freshet or to flush and clean the channel if needed.

“This project is going to benefit the people in the community. It's going to increase the number of coho in the channel, which is going to hopefully realize benefits for sports fishermen, commercial fishermen, and First Nations fishermen,” said Bennett.

“There's just no downside to these types of projects.”

The Bonaparte First Nation Natural Resource department has expanded from four workers to almost 20 over the past two years, in part because of restoration partnerships with the Ministry of Forests, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the BCWF.

The BCWF directed $135,000 to channel restoration, with part of the money going to a riparian fencing project.

“The BCWF is focused on projects with a high return on investment in terms of environmental outcomes and deliverables and this project is a perfect example,” said Neil Fletcher, BCWF director of Conservation Stewardship.

“This is a rearing channel with a unique groundwater feed, which is vital to coho salmon.”

Funding was also provided by BC’s Watershed Security Fund and the BC Conservation and Biodiversity. The BCWF also provided staff time and in-kind technical support to the project.

The DFO’s Aquatic Habitat Restoration Fund and Shuswap Fisheries Commission also provided funding.

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