Thousands of salmon make it upstream just before winter

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Dec. 07, 2022

Log-jam removal from key Nicola River habitat allows 2,000 salmon to reach spawning grounds.

Coldwater-Nicola River—Merritt, B.C.– One-year after the 2021 floods left Pacific salmon stranded in fields and vital habitat in immediate need of repair, coho salmon have some good news as a significant barrier to their spawning habitat has been addressed.

As a result of the 2021 floods, a major log jam has been blocking salmon from accessing prime upstream spawning habitat on the Coldwater River, one of B.C.’s most important rivers for salmon. A flight in November observed thousands of adult coho waiting to enter their spawning grounds. Thanks to a collaborative effort, the barrier blocking them from more than 10 kilometres of important habitat has recently been repaired.

Before: November 2022 aerial view of Coldwater-Nicola River log jam blocking salmon from accessing more than 10 kilometres of spawning habitat.

This is very positive news as this coho population has shown good signs of recovery in recent years, and this project has helped give coho access to some of the best spawning habitat in the river. The spawning habitat in the lower part of river is seriously impacted from the floods, as well as recent wildfires and other factors, and having access to the best spawning habitat in the river is seen as an important action to support the continued recovery of this population.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), Scw’exmx Tribal Council, and STC Nicola Watershed Stewardship and Fisheries Authority with support from Chief Spahan of the Coldwater Indian Band, oversaw the recent log-jam removal. The project resulted from a collaboration of the Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF) working closely with others on the Nicola Fisheries Emergency Working Group comprising First Nations, DFO, BC Ministries, and others. PSF funded the assessment, project plan, and construction with approximately $50,000 thanks to funds from the Pacific Salmon Endowment Fund and generous donors.

Coho salmon observed upstream of the log jam after it was removed.

“The funding enables PSF to be a real catalyst in convening partners to support salmon recovery. The assessments have been critical in uncovering issues and time-sensitive solutions. This project shows a very successful outcome when people come together for salmon. This is very, very good news for salmon,” says Jason Hwang, PSF’s VP of salmon.

Many post-flood projects have been completed, and assessments are underway for others that may begin soon.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2021 floods, PSF sprung into action, aligning partners and funding $300,000 in immediate salmon recovery efforts. As the emergency subsided, PSF convened leaders and experts from First Nations, government, NGOs, and volunteers, and continued to fund game-changing recovery efforts in high-priority salmon-producing areas like the Coldwater-Nicola River.

Due to climate change, events like the 2021 floods and, more recently, this year’s drought will occur more frequently and continue to threaten endangered salmon populations.

“These time-sensitive projects related to floods can act as a catalyst for improved planning, preparation, and to advance integrated management and nature-based solutions that will ultimately be more compatible with salmon sustainability,” says Hwang.

“We need to stop treating events like these as a surprise. Instead, we need to start changing our behaviours and take measures to reduce impacts from our development activities and invest in measures that will make our watersheds more resilient and help salmon adapt to climate change.”