Oct 01 2010

What a morning! Sockeye at Wilsey Dam

Share Button

What a morning!

The mist was rising off the Shuswap as we headed toward the Wilsey Dam. We drove down past the Mable Lake Hall and stopped above the river.

I heard the smash down water careening over the falls. The fence was topped in barbed wire – it’s a long way down. I thought about getting those salmon above the dam – to Cherryville via fish ladder. BC Hydro committed the funds back in 1929. Why have we waited so long? One hundred thousand fish – too many fish to let the upper rivers run empty.

Shuswap falls

Shuswap falls

“We could catch them in buckets and drive them above the dam” I called out to Gord. He shook his head – my words drowned in the waterfall. “It can’t be worse than the Fraser River” I yelled. Gord took some pictures and we continued toward the river’s edge.
Sockeye salmon below falls

Sockeye salmon below the falls



There in the calmed water below the dam, were sockeye as far as the eye could see – all facing into the current – all scarlet – all here to spawn! We stood in silence looking and breathing in time to the salmon shivering across to the other shore. Clear water, cleaned and full of oxygen. Beautiful!

Did you know it was “International Rivers Day” last Sunday? River’s Day saw me hanging off a tree that fell across the Bessette River.

My brother and I bagged 5 whiskey bottles, one pop bottle, 2 baseballs, 2 tennis balls, decayed Styrofoam and one ugly fence post leaching it’s toxic copper into our precious river. The fence post can go to the neighbour’s farm the rest to the landfill.

Information from DFO

Information from DFO

Someone had recently cleaned up this place of miracles below the Dam so when I saw some crumpled paper it caught my attention. It was a DFO notice on wild salmon. DFO’s good intentions ripped up and laid waste on the river’s edge. Is there not enough plastic in this country for DFO to enshrine their words of wisdom so they cannot be destroyed? I left the paper there to take its message into the ground.

Action Plan sign

Action Plan at the fish hatchery

Onward toward the Fish Hatchery and a huge ACTION PLAN sign:

“Laboratory Upgrade” “Oh” I said to Gord “please get a picture of that – here’s an action plan hidden away in the wilderness!”. Gord got out and focused is camera. “Hello” someone called from the building. “just sightseeing” answered Gord. “Is this the Fish Hatchery?”

“We’re going to see the Sockeye” I called out as Gord took photos of the Action Plan.

A charming woman came to the gate and pointed out the path to the beach. Gord mentioned the sign and I asked what was getting upgraded. She said she didn’t know. I think she would have liked some Laboratory upgrades – something more than a sign – perhaps the sign is the upgrade – did anyone ask her what kind of action she wanted?

We expressed our interest in salmon. I asked her if it was true that the salmon kill themselves trying to get back in the hatchery to spawn. “No” she said – fish are not stupid, when they can’t get past an obstacle they fall back and spawn when they need to spawn – they just find a place and spawn. She invited us in for a tour. It was fascinating.

Chinook salmon at fish hatchery

Chinook salmon at fish hatchery

I saw big black Chinook – the same salmon that are up the Bessette spawning right now. These are the big ones that I thought were  Coho. I was wrong about that – Coho don’t get here for three more weeks. The hatchery outfall had one salmon calmly looking  around as if to say – this is where I came from: Where do I go?

Later, I saw the other Chinook spawning along the Shuswap river.

The fish hatchery is not a fish farm – the fish are raised for creating stock. The Hatchery is very clean but it didn’t smell like bleach. I saw the fish pools with large black Chinook salmon – males in one pond, females in the other.

Chinook females at hatchery

Chinook females at hatchery

They were almost ready to spawn. When the fish is ready, the biologist kills the fish, takes the eggs, fertilizes them and raises millions of fish for release. It’s quite a job. One female fish is ready to spawn tomorrow – I was invited to watch. I said I would come.

Later, I realized that I’d be watching them kill the fish. Not wanting to refuse the generous offer from the biologist I hoped in my heart that I’d get a call to work. I prefer watching live fish. The dead ones – well – they just look like they wore off their colour and when you consider the journey through the entire Fraser River they are truly worn out. However, dead ones chopped in half with a knife and tossed up on the river bank look creepy.


Here are a few interesting facts about the Fish Hatchery:  They don’t raise sockeye for this area. All the sockeye at the bottom of the Wilsey dam are wild fish. Sockeye raised in the Hatchery are from Okanagan River and this year they are raising sockeye for the Okanagan Nation Alliance.  The Hatchery raises Chinook for this area and the Lower Shuswap. The Hatchery has a 92-96% survival from the egg take to release – either way it’s remarkable.  On average one adult female Chinook produces 5,000 eggs. Amazing!

I asked her what she thought of the fish ladder – she was supportive saying that fish will take to a new environment but the electric turbines would have to be covered to prevent the salmon from getting chopped to bits.

Chatting with DFO

Chatting with DFO

After our hatchery tour Gord and I went to the beach where I chatted with a person from DFO. That will be my next post. We took a few more photos and left.

The dead and dying

The dead and dying

As it turns out, I did have a message waiting so I called the biologist and thanked her for the tour and apologized for cancelling tomorrow’s hatchery visit – but as a piano tuner I take the work when it comes.

Apparently, I’ll get another job since the biologist needs her piano tuned as well. I revealed my squeamishness about witnessing the fish kill and she was sympathetic – she will let me know when there is a big spawn. I am grateful and look forward to it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *