The Colquitz Fish Fence is on pause after 11 fish were found dead in the fence on Nov. 2.
Because the reasons for the death are unknown, a major panel in the Salmon in The City counting fence on the Colquitz River has been removed and the fish can flow uncounted.
It’s rare to see so many casualties and its the first time Dorothy Chambers, the lead steward for the Salmon in the City fish counting program on the Colquitz River, has seen this scenario, she said.
“My heart is broken, it makes me feel sick,” said Chambers, who is the latest to volunteer countless hours into the program that started decades ago.
Despite facing constant urban threats, the Colquitz has otherwise earned accolades for managing to host up to 1,500 spawning Coho in a year.
“We don’t know why but the temperature (Nov. 2) was up to 14.5 degrees, which is way too warm for spawning salmon,” Chambers said.
There’s also speculation that, although it wasn’t the first set of heavy rains since the salmon started spawning, the flush of heavy rains around Nov. 1 may have brought excess toxins from the roads and storm drains that feed the Colquitz.
“Annually, on the first big flush of rain during the spawning season, we would find one or two dead salmon, but that’s it,” Chambers said.
For decades the Colquitz fish counting fence in Cuthbert Holmes Park (behind Tillicum shopping centre) has captured spawning coho and other fish. Volunteers release them one at a time. On Nov. 2, however, Chambers and other volunteers were shocked to find 11 dead fish waiting in the large holding pen that allows the rushing Colquitz to pass through.
An investigation is underway. Organs from the dead fish have been sent to labs, and water sampling and monitoring is being analyzed.
“We will continue the count, by replacing the panel, if and when the river and conditions are deemed safe again,” Chambers said.
In 2011, the leak of a buried home oil tank on Kenneth Street in Saanich led to the death of at least 24 salmon and other wildlife in the river.
“When I got to the fish fence that day in 2011, there was 24 salmon at the surface just gasping for air in the oily water,” Chambers recalled.
Last year Colquitz’s spawning Coho numbers hit a disappointing total in the 300s compared to 1,100 in 2016. Gary Caton of the Esquimalt Anglers said numbers at Craigflower Creek are at about 200 and on track for a good year.