Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Spanish Bank Creek - A Fish Story

Spanish Bank Creek flows through Pacific Spirit Regional Park (through the University Golf Course) and under North West Marine Drive near the western end of Spanish Bank Beach.

Spanish Bank is the beach west of Tolmie Street on North West Marine Drive named to “commemorate the meeting of the English (under Captain Vancouver) and the Spanish (under Galiano and Valdes) in this area in June 1792” according to BC Geographical place names:

"Named because the Spanish exploring vessels Sutil and Mexicana, under Galiano and Valdes, were found here at anchor by Captain Vancouver in June 1792. The British vessels did not anchor in this neighbourhood nearer than Birch Bay. The bank is shown, but not named, on Galiano's charts of 1792 and 1795, but on Vancouver's chart it is not mentioned at all. It was known to the officers of the Hudson's Bay Company as Spanish Bank for the above reasons, and was the name adopted by Captain Richards, HMS Plumper, when making his survey of Burrard Inlet in 1859."
Source: Walbran, John T; British Columbia Coast Names, 1592-1906: their origin and history; Ottawa, 1909 (republished for the Vancouver Public Library by J.J. Douglas Ltd, Vancouver, 1971)

The Spanish Bank Creek has come into my orbit in the last couple of years. It is close to where I live and I would often pass by while running or walking without stopping, until a neighbour (a stream keeper) first told me about the restoration project at the creek. Curious, I would stop and watch, talk to stream keepers, if they happened to be there, and gradually learned more of the creek's story.  Now I stop by once or twice a week to see what is happening. In this blog I am passing on what I have learned about the story of the creek.

In the fall of 2000 Coho returned to Spanish Bank Creek to spawn, ending an absence of over 80 years.
The creek was salmon bearing before development of the area and installation of a culvert that was impassable to fish.

The return of the fish was achieved by community fish stewardship groups in cooperation with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Vancouver Park Board and the Ministry of the Environment.  A restoration project was started in 1993 after the Vancouver Salmon and Stream Society identified the creek’s potential. For the project to be successful the old culvert needed to be removed, other portions opened to the daylight, and the channel restored. The channel passes under a pedestrian walkway on the foreshore that is well used by the public year round.  The foreshore has been stabilized with plantings of dune grass and with rock and log placements: (Spanish Bank Creek Restoration Project)

An off-channel pond was dug north of Marine Drive which now provides a rich habitat for Coho fry to spend their first one and a half years of life.

Off Channel pond best viewed from above on Spanish Trail

The stream keepers acknowledge the cooperation of the UBC Golf Course Greens Keepers in maintaining a viable salmon stream.

Coho and Chum salmon fry have been released by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans annually since1999. The Coho Salmon fry come from Capilano River and the Chum salmon fry from Kanaka Creek.  In addition, students from over 50 schools have been involved in rearing chum salmon fry in aquariums in their classrooms for release into the creek. Stream keepers are generally on hand to help with the release and give guidance to the school children involved.

The Coho fry stay in the creek for a year and a half, leaving the creek in June to return a year and a half later, usually between November 15 and December 15. The chum leave the creek as fry, (either shortly after hatching or after being released into the creek as fry) to return between 3 and 5 years later (usually 4 years) to spawn. The fish and fry change their colour in order to blend into the background, which helps to prevent them from being eaten by predators.

If it wasn't for the shadow, this salmon fry would be hard to spot
 The area is rich with animal life including otters, raccoons, herons, eagles, owls and mink and the forest is very dense and can be dangerous: stinging nettles, ticks and steep and slippery terrain.

Late last fall Coho returned and spawned in the creek producing a healthy population of fry. 

Measuring salmon fry

Here is an article from BC Outdoors Sport Fishing from the September October 2003 issue (click on article to enlarge):

The creek is now cared for by volunteer stream keepers. I have helped with chum drops in the last 2 years and I often stop to talk to stream keepers when they are by the creek or just to observe. I have taken pictures of the arrival of the chum fry, the portioning into pails and then the release into the creek. School groups are involved in the release of fry into the creek from a platform that was built just south of North West Marine Drive for that purpose, The stream keepers also take buckets of fish as far up the creek as the temperate rain forest allows; this way the chum are able to spend more time in the creek before their trip to the ocean and it is hoped allow them to become imprinted on the creek for their return several years later. Last Fall I was lucky enough to see spawning fish entering the creek and watched for some time as they struggled up the creek.
Some of the Spanish Bank Stream keepers and DFO Canada members (standing) Dick Scarth, Ron Gruber, Scott Ducharme (DFO), Jesse Neri (DFO), Sandie Hollick-Kenyon (DFO) and (kneeling in front) Maurice Le Gallais

The stream keepers made a documentary about “Spanish Bank Creek”: Video 1 2002 and Video 2 2004.

Come and see the creek, but watch from the foreshore path or creek shore and remember that the stream keepers path is for authorized persons only to protect the well being of the creek and the fish and for the safety of the public.

Thank you for reading this post, thank you to all those involved in bring the creek back to life and a special thank you to my neighbour Maurice LeGallais for his help with this post.

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