Fell Channel Updates
Do you ever take a second to stop and look at the water in a creek when you're hiking or walking?
I can't say I do unless I am doing something volunteer related.
Recently I was walking Fell Channel on Mosquito and came across a pool that is a favorite for dogs, even though no dogs are allowed on this trail on or off the leash.
I was actually taking a few pictures to send to the City in an ask for them to fence off this area of creek entirely to protect it from dogs when I witnessed something.
A Coho fry had breached the water to feed.
It happened so fast I didn't get a good look, then not 10 seconds later it happened again and again. And so I got my phone out to record.
Sure enough I was able to get a couple shots of these guys breaching the water. I couldn't see what it was they were feeding on but it was something I had never witnessed before.
I wonder if dog owners took a second to see this beautiful display would they stop allowing their dogs to enter the channel to continually destroy it?
Coho Fry and Cutthroat Holding in Numbers
Further up the channel there is a sight that occurs every summer.
Large numbers of Coho fry and Cutthroat hold in the first pool where the flow enters the channel from the main-stem.
It is hard to understand why they choose this area over the rest of the creek, but I have a few guesses:
Sad to see a recurring theme here, DOGS being a large issue.
My question is why are all the largest & deepest pools on Mosquito treated as dog swimming pools? It seems it's a given, "Oh this trail is off leash so the whole creek is game. Oh a nice large pool, yup that must mean its a dog swimming pool, right?"
Why is everything North of Marine Drive seemingly overly inviting for dogs to come have a swim?
I think it's time only some sections of the creek be welcoming to dogs and the rest become fenced off.
The equation is very simple:
Constant Dog Pressure = Far Less Fish
Don't believe me?
Check out the spawning beds on Thain Creek.
There is not a whole lot special about that area of creek.
The pools are not especially deep, as they run straight up and down being that they are man-made, and they are bound by ivy & blackberry bush on either side.
...Yet they yield the highest density of fish on the ENTIRE watershed.
Hmmm wonder why that is?
Your answer, no dog pressure.
Here's a vid of the fish in tight quarters on Fell Channel.
Other Updates and Dates to Remember
First evidence of the 2017 stonefly hatch was on July 2nd, 2017.
The area this was observed was right underneath the HWY 1 bridge.
Dozens of empty casings where spotted on larger boulders. Perhaps the stoneflies chose this area due to the fact that it is so dry.
Also on July 2nd I came across a large pool that was left stranded by receding water levels, with no help in sight from the weather forecast I took action with a small fish tank net to save the stranded Coho.
Below find a variety of sizes of Coho fry that I was able to save and safely release. They weren't photo shy after I released them!
Sizes were roughly 2.5" (see the fish on the top left) to the very large outlier on the bottom right who was 3.5".
Cutthroat fry were first sighted in the Fell Channel July 3rd, they were absolutely tiny! Around 1/3 the size of an emerged Coho Fry. I was unable to get a clear photo of them as they were smaller than most pieces of gravel.
Thain Coho Fry & Garbage Clean Up
In late October of last year I cleaned out the Queens fish ladder on Thain Creek. It was entirely necessary as all the steps were completely encased in rock and sand, and the fact that there was no flow coming down the ladder.
Following this I worked my way down Thain Creek to the "daylighted" section. At the beginning of the daylighted section (looking upstream), there is a very steep section of boulders. I was able to recreate this area by moving several large 50-150lb boulders around to create step pools to make this obstacle fish passable, as well as removing all sorts of sticks and debris that were clogging up the easiest to pass sections.
Following my trappings on Thain with Sandie we believed my attempts were done too late in the year and that no Coho had spawned aboved the steep obstacle section. We believed this as our traps came back with only Cutthroat and no Coho.
However, after working my way from the bottom of this obstacle to Westview Drive I was completely surprised. There were Coho fry holding in pretty much every little pool, and as I worked my way up to the man made spawning/rearing pools in the section that had been daylighted the numbers I was seeing grew immensly. The 3-4 large man made rearing pools were holding hundreds of Coho fry. Each had shoals of 30-50, and those were just the numbers I could see. Who knows how many hid under the rocks.
It was amazing to see so many fish that nobody knew were there, especially in an area of creek I didn't think adults were able to make it to for spawning last year. Surely if the Coho had made it this far, then they could have surpassed the Queens ladder and worked their way up to the Evergreen Place culvert.
This means an extra KM had been opened up for spawning, but even more importantly for rearing. By having an extra 1,000 meters of creek for fish rearing this will hopefully mean more fry will survive to smolts as the density will be less harsh and should provide for more area/food for development.
Continuing the day of my pure joy and excitement in seeing the unexpected Coho fry in Thain, I came across some not so good news.
A garbage bag from the Westview McDonalds had somehow ended up alongside/in the creek. Several hundred pairs of plastic gloves along with all sorts of other garbage was everywhere. Right by the little Salmon Hut on the west side of Westview where Thain goes underneath the road.
I couldn't stand to see it and I knew if I had gone to the district for clean up it would probably take days. So I took it upon myself to clean it all up. What I thought would be one garbage bag full was actually 4! I filled 4 big garbage bags with McDonalds trash and all sorts of bottles that had accumulated over the years. Needless to say it looks much better now, hopefully the fish appreciate it!
Protecting the East Alcove
On my previous post I discussed the importance of the Alcoves on Mosquito Creek and the abuse the East Alcove has been receiving from consistent dog pressure and the direct effect it is having on the Coho fry population.
Here is what I have done in an attempt to protect the alcove from dogs.
Firstly, I built a 3 tiered wall of natural debris along the south side of the entrance to the alcove.
Areas of Erosion / Dog Paths into Alcove
Although the entrance to the alcove is doing extremely well for preventing dog access, the areas along the "decommisioned trail" which is strictly "dog on lease only" seems to be the #1 area for dogs entering the alcove.
Since my DFO "salmon at work sign" seemed to have little effect, it was necessary I take measures into my own hands for beefing up protection. Especially since had I gone to City for help it would take them months or years to complete the construction of a proper fence.
Week after week I steadily added debris to the three main entrances that dogs had been using the access the alcove. Every other week it seemed a die-hard dog owner would remove pieces of the dog fences I had created. And so began my battle of adding more and more debris faster and faster than those owners could remove it.
Now it seems like I am at the point where it is about as good as it can get, I can clearly see evidence that some dogs are still making their way down as wet marks are left in the sand/dirt. I am confident that my efforst have reduced the dogs entering the alcove by about 50%, but my ultimate goal is to have a 99% reduction by way of a real fence.
I have gone to the City asking for help but have not yet heard back as to if they can provide assistance. I will be sure to post here first when I hear back from them.
I have been doing a lot of work on the East Alcove since putting lots of woody debris into the Alcove in January.
After the Coho fry emerged from the gravel in March they were quickly swept downstream into the man made alcoves. This is by design, to give the fry refuge from the violent water flows to do the large storm drain catchment area.
I have spotted many fry in both alcoves, the West one is particularly dense. I would esitmate anywhere from 1,000 - 2,000 fry take refuge in this alcove.
The East, an area just as large, on the other hand has only 100 - 250 by my estimates - Here's why.
Unlike the largely fence protected West Alcove, the East Alcove has no fencing and so it is an all access dog swimming pool.
There are many issues heavy dog traffic contributes to:
During the spring months there was little evidence of the dog traffic being a major issue. Largely due to the fact that it was so cold that not many dogs took the opportunity to take a swim, and that rains filled & flushed the alcoves on a consistent basis.
However, as the weather became warmer the dog pressure became a significant issue as the stirred silt stays suspended for long periods of time - several hours on end.
Upon close viewing one can see the Coho fry going through a process in which they flare their gills in an attempt to clear them of the silt. A process called gill extrication, or when the fry are forced to clean their gills in an attempt to breathe. My fear is many fry are simply suffocating to death, and if holding on are under major stress likely causing stunted growth. As the water recedes further and the temperature rises it is likely more fish will succumb to stress & suffocation.
Here is a photo from mid Spring when the water was actually somewhat translucent. Was even able to get a half decent photo with a Coho fry at the top of the water.
Thain/Upper Mission Creek Trapping
On May 9th, 2017 Sandie, myself and a friend headed out to retrieve traps we had set the evening previous.
The goal of this trapping was to see if we could trap some Coho juveniles in this reach of Thain Creek. The concern was no adult Coho were making it up a very steep section of creek to the west of Westview Drive. The second concern was if fish were making it up this steep section of creek, were they able to get up the Queens fish ladder prior to me cleaning it out.
We only placed two traps, one below the fish ladder at Queens and one above it. There were plenty of Cutthroat spotted during the placement of the traps. Some of which were very large, a few that looked to be 8" or larger.
Since there were so many Cutthroat spotted, we didn't want to entice too many into the traps incase Coho fry of the year were captured. In which case, the Cutthroat may eat the Coho. The traps were placed in very shallow sections of the creek for this reason.
Both traps yielded 3 Cutthroat for a total of 6 fish.
So few fish with large chunks of roe had them looking very chubby! They looked as if they were ready to explode, well at least they won't have to eat anytime soon now!
Unfortunately there were no Coho fry of the year or 1 year olds. Which leads us to believe that the spawning Coho in the previous two years were not able to pass a very steep section of Thain Creek.
I remediated the steep section of Thain creek by hand, creating large step pools with boulders to allow for salmon passage for the coming year - only time will tell if it works!
The Cutthroat in Trap 1 - Below the fish ladder were:
14.2CM, 12.6CM & 10.1CM
Trap 2 - Above the fish ladder were:
12.8CM, 12.0CM & 11.2CM
Coho Fry of the Year
The colder than usual winter we experienced on the Lower Mainland meant that I would have to wait extra-long for the Coho fry to emerge from the gravel this year.
After visiting MacKay Creek in late March and seeing dozens of tiny fry, I couldn't help myself but visit Mosquito Creek every 2nd or 3rd day until I was finally able to spot some fry.
The fry were spotted in the Fell Channel a day or two before the juvenile trapping with Scott & Sandie on April 4th/5th. I was quick to point out the exact spot I had seen them with Scott & Sandie on the day of the trapping, April 4th. As a group we were lucky enough to see a couple in that very same pool, but nothing like the numbers I was seeing throughout MacKay Creek.
I was surprised to see any year of the year in the Fell Channel, as I had not seen a spawning pair in there during the fall. I suppose it is quite possible they evaded my eyes, but another strong possibility is these fry had been swept into the intake of the fell channel. This would mean they were actually from the main stem of Mosquito, or had been pushed down all the way from Thain Creek.
Either way it was a great find and they sure looked happy to be in the slower-moving channel environment.
Thain Creek & Mosquito Main-Stem
The channel where I had seen four adults was the Griffin Channel, and the possible redd (nest) Sandie had helped identify still showed no signs of successful yield all the way through to around April 14th.
I decided to go to check out an area of Thain Creek where I had seen plenty of Coho spawning in the fall. First stop was the jimmy-rigged bridge over the creek that trail go-ers maintain. Sure enough in the back-eddys in the nearby area of the bridge I spotted some Coho fry of the year.
This was a good sign, but I knew there would be plenty more where I was headed. Sure enough the holy grail of spawning pools had produced a great number of fry. In this particular area of creek I was able to see around 20 fry of the year, which was about the number I had expected to see. I am hopeful a large majority were able to avoid my eyes though. I had seen 6 spawners in this area, so only 20 fry would be a huge dissapointment if that was all that had survived.
As I made my way down the trail, I decided to check out the West Alcove on Mosquito Creek, on my way to the alcove opening there was a large deep pool of slow moving water, protected by a large boulder. I didn't think I was going to be so lucky as to see any fry in the mainstem as the water was still fairly high, but protected from the torrent there were 3 fry of the year hanging out in plain sight! I continued down only a couple feet further to survey the alcove itself, but was unable to spot any fry in the alcove itself.
On the morning of Saturday April 15th I decided to check out the Griffin Channel. Sure enough, just above the top habitat pool I spotted my first pair of fry in the Griffin Channel. This was a hugely positive sign as that now meant I had seen Coho fry of the year in both channels, Thain Creek, & the main-stem of Mosquito Creek.
I continued down the channel to see if there were more fry around the redd, but yet again not a fry in sight. I walked a bit further down the channel and was able to find two more areas with a few fry. This area of the channel is mostly fast flowing, but where the fry were spotted was in protected still water. The substrate was a dark muddy color and the fry blended in very well. By my estimate I had seen approximately 8 fry all together in the Griffin Channel.
It was hugely positive to see fry in the Griffin Channel, but even in these wonderful channel habitats it seems the survival rates from egg to fry are extremely small.
MacKay Creek Comparison
Firstly, I would like to thank everyone involved with the restoration and enhancement of MacKay Creek, including the recent estuary revamp. It is truely a gem in the urban world in which we live and all the hard work is definitely starting to show.
After walking MacKay a couple times in April, I really wish we were so lucky as to have every creek in North Vancouver as healthy as MacKay... - Maybe one day.
One of the first things you might notice when walking the trails of MacKay Creek, is the amount of woody debris in the creek itself. If you were to compare MacKay to pretty much any other creek on the North Shore, especially Mosquito, you will find there is really no comparison. Most creek beds now run debris-free, but MacKay Creek is an outlier.
I am beginning to think this woody debris has a deeper impact on creeks than we currently understand.
You can probably tell I am hinting at something, if so you are right.
In just a few trips I was able to see, without a doubt, literally thousands of Coho fry on MacKay Creek. The results in 2017 have been phenomenal! I have been able to identify two particular areas of the creek where shoals, yes shoals, of fry hold up.
The number of fry in these shoals come close to breaking the 50 mark. As one walks past one of these areas in particular, a 6-ft long section of streambed seems to move in synchronization!
Fry of the year in these numbers are so rare, which leads to another comparison in which there really is no comparison. No other small creek on the North Shore has the number of fry as does MacKay.
Don't get me wrong, I am extremely excited to see fry on Mosquito in the numbers I have seen. I do however think MacKay Creek should be used as a model, an example of sorts, which all the creeks on the North Shore should strive to become.
I would recommend maximizing this video to full screen and keeping an eye on the bottom left area of the screen as that is where the most action happens.
I am definitely not doing Apple any favors by selling their iPhone 6 camera, but as I am sure you can understand these little guys are super camera shy. If you get too close they'll disapear. This was the best footage I was able to get.
Juvenile Salmonid Trapping 2017
***IMPORTANT*** Before reading this article it is important to know that any kind of fishing on Mosquito Creek is strictly prohibited. Additionally, juvenile trapping without DFO approval is considered a serious offense. This project was approved by DFO and conducted by two of it's members, I was there only for observation and support. ***
Setting the Traps, April 4th
On the afternoon of April 4th, 2017, myself and two of our local DFO officers went to place traps in the Griffin & Fell Channels to observe numbers and size of fish species utilizing this habitat.
Eight traps in total were set. Four traps in the Griffin Channel and four traps in the Fell Channel.
During set up we observed a trio of Cutthroat Trout actively spawning in the Fell Channel, an activity never before observed by Scott, who has been working in the industry for over 20 years.
As we continued down the channel habitat we also spotted Coho "fry-of-the-year," tiny fry which had just hatched this year. The fry were only spotted in one pool, and there were approximately 5 observed. We estimate that they had emerged from the gravel within the last week or two.
The fish we expect to observe from the traps are Cutthroat Trout, Coho Salmon, & Steelhead (Rainbow Trout).
Griffin Channel Results, April 5th
On the morning of April 5th we returned to the traps to see what, if anything, was inside. There was great anticipation and everyone had a good feeling about today, especially me.
The first trapped was pulled from the Griffin Channel and it was alive with juveniles. I literally could not believe my eyes. As a volunteer on Mosquito Creek I frequent the creek and like to think I know the state of the sections of the creek and how much they are being utilized by fish.
I had suspected there must be fish in this section, but I had no idea how many or how large the fish would be in this piece of channel habitat. For a normal passer by one might think this deep pool with slow moving water is a "water-tundra" of sorts, all but barren except for the pieces of woody debris and sandy bottom coated with decaying leave litter.
Above you can see the photo of the fish pulled from the first trap . (We had transferred them into a pail at this point).
I was hoping for about 5 fish, to me that would have been a successful trap. To my delight there were 21 fish in the first trap! The majority were Coho juveniles, 1-2 years old, with a mixture of juvenile & adult resident Cutthroat Trout.
Sandie pulled the second trap, this trap was placed in the same pool as the first, and it too had fish in it, this time only 6, but a hugely positive result.
As we continued down the Griffin Channel, more positive results, lots of healthy fish!
***All fish were measured, counted, and released unharmed - without the use of any sedatives.***
Fell Channel Results, April 5th
The Fell Channel runs more narrow, and does not have the same large slow moving deep pools with the gradient of the Griffin Channel. For this reason, three of the four traps in this section were placed in faster moving and shallower water.
We expected fewer fish and this was indeed the case, the three traps averaged three fish per trap, also as expected the species observed were Cutthroat Trout by a large margin.
There are really only two areas of deep slow moving water on this channel, one of which was the area where the fry of the year were observed, and so we did not set a trap in this area.
The other deep slow moving pool proved to be utilized by Coho Juveniles as expected, 3 Coho and 3 Cutthroat were observed in this section. One of these Coho was the largest observed on this day, 111mm in length. We expect this is a smolt that will be heading out to brave the ocean waters very soon.
Final Tally & Thoughts
Although no Steelhead (Rainbow Trout) were observed, the results were simply amazing, the final count was 59 Coho & 21 Cutthroat, an improvement from years past.
Today I learnt how vital these man made channels are to the health of Mosquito Creek. I had always suspected that metre for metre these were much more valuable than the main stem, and today proved it.
With the help of community individuals, businesses, and other organizations I hope to further improve existing habitat and where possible add new beneficial features and channel habitat.
Mosquito Creek Spawning Salmon History
Historically, Mosquito Creek supported strong populations of Cutthroat, Steelhead, Pink, Chum & Coho salmon. It was documented that the returning fish numbered in the thousands.
Today however, we are lucky if we see tens of fish return. Mosquito Creek is located in the heart of North Vancouver, British Columbia. The area has become heavily ubranized since the 1950's. Due to urban development, channelisation for flood management, culvert construction and storm water diversion the numbers of returning salmon have decreased dramatically.
The MosquitoCreek.Org website has documented returning salmon from 1995 - 2005. During this time frame surveyed fish numbered from a high of 20 in 1996 to a low of 1 in 2005. It is hard to know what exactly led to this harsh decline of fish over this 10 year period, but such a small stream with such low flows in the summer is susceptible to pollution that could wipe out all the fry and smolts in the stream in a single year.
I have been a member of the Edgemont Village community for 26 years and frequented Mosquito Creek in my childhood, I never came across a live or dead salmon in all my time. In the Fall of 2016 I joined the North Shore Stream Keepers (NSSK) in hopes to document and help raise the number of returning salmon, steelhead and cutthroat.
In November of 2016 I began my first salmon surveys, albeit out of the water, so simply sightings while walking the paths and trails. I was surprised to find my first Chum salmon in the lower reaches of Mosquito Creek, just south of the 3rd Street bridge. As I continued walking I spotted 8 more Chum Salmon. This total of 9 was greater than the documented numbers for 2003/2004/2005 combined of total salmon surveyed. Interestingly enough only 6 Chum during that 10 year period were ever counted and I had surpassed that with a single days worth of sightings in 2016.
Recently, the District of North Vancouver changed a portion of the creek just above Marine Drive, so much so that myself, NSSK, and DFO suspect that this area of the creek is now no longer passable for Chum and Pink Salmon. I do not recall what this portion of the creek looked like prior to the completion of this area in October of 2016, but when I saw all the heavy equipment in the creek I suspected they would be digging a deep pool or something valuable to the fish rather than building a boulder riffle.
The biggest question of all was why this work was done during the spawning times of summer-run Steelhead, Coho & Chum? The only thing they possibly could have done worse was do it during the same months on an odd year - a Pink spawning year. The pumps for water diversion were stirring up fine silt which must have been terrible for the already laid Chum eggs as this would cover the eggs making them unable to breathe. I will be conducting fry and smolt trappings in the lower reaches of the creek in the spring to see the survival rates of these fish.
Enough with the negative news, back to the positive stuff!
See below for videos of some returning salmon in both Mosquito and Thain Creek.
I apologise in advance for the sub-par quality.
Thain Creek Spawning Beds
As a member of the Edgemont Village community for over 26 years, I didn't realise what took place on Thain Creek to ensure proper fish passage and spawning 18 years ago.
In 1999 the District of North Vancouver decided to remove a 200M culvert which ran underneath Westview Drive, just south of Queens Road. This section would be "daylighted" and fish passable. The district did a great job on this section of the creek, there are now 3 or 4 long spawning beds in place of what was a culvert. This job cost approximately $1.4M in 1999 and was a great investment. This coupled with the removal of the a second, much smaller, culvert on Windsor & Delbrook now allows fish to make their way up to Evergreen Place.
These combined culvert removals gave back over 1KM of fish passable stream for spawning Steelhead, Cutthroat and Coho Salmon. Previously, the total fish passable section of Thain Creek was only ~400 Meters long.
- Below is a picture from the 1999 Culvert Removal on Thain Creek.
Photo Credit: www.kwl.ca/projects/daylighting-thain-creek
This is a compilation of photos when I first visited the Fish Ladder in November of 2016.