Our incubator box
From 1986 till 2012, our Salmonid Enhancement Group under Pete Willows collected coho salmon eggs each fall and reared them in our own spring-fed incubator box near the creek. Each spring, the 10,000 or so coho fry were released into the creek by Streamkeepers, with the able assistance of school kids. The hundreds of thousands of coho released over those decades are no doubt the ancestors of at least some of the returning wild coho spawners we see today.
Salmon releases in recent years
With the invaluable assistance of our Fisheries & Oceans Canada Community Advisor Robert Schaefer, we and our many elementary school student helpers now release 150,000 chum fry and 1000 coho smolts into Cougar Creek every year in April. Because chum head for the ocean shortly after their release, the young fish are not as vulnerable to poor in-stream conditions as coho fry, which spend a full year in the creek. And yet coho (mostly wild coho) make up the larger part of our returning spawners. Yay, wild salmon!
Wild, self-sustaining salmon and other fish populations are of course the ultimate goal. Unfortunately, as long as torrential flows of stormwater runoff continue to be piped into the creek, natural spawning is greatly hampered. Fish eggs are swept away by the torrent, or suffocated under sediments that wash off streets and erode from streambanks. Low water levels and warm water temperatures in summer (because groundwater was not replenished during rainy season) are a further challenge — as are ocean conditions and climate change, of course.
So for the forseeable future, Cougar Creek’s salmon populations will continue to receive a boost from releases of hatchery-raised fish.