Don Lowen

Bear Mountain steps up for fish release

  • May. 12, 2011 9:00 a.m.

The Goldstream hatchery wasn’t the only one releasing salmon fry into the Goldstream River days before an fuel spill wiped out an estimated 30,000 fish.

Kevin Dranchuk’s Grade 3/4 class, like many in the district, had a classroom fish tank where they raised coho from eggs. But because of aquarium trouble, the Ruth King elementary students released their fish early — just two days before the April 16 fuel truck crash that sent 42,000 litres of fuel into the river, devastating the ecosystem.

“The class was upset, understandably,” Dranchuk said. “We were studying the life cycle of salmon, and it’s an unfortunate reality that humans have an impact on natural cycles. This became a real life example of that.”

Luckily, the students were given a second chance to release juvenile salmon — this time in a pond far from any major road.

A yellow school bus shuttled the class up a rough, unpaved access road to the heart of the Bear Mountain’s Valley golf course where a freshwater pond has been modified with fish ladders to create a salmon nursery. The fish the students release are part of the second batch put into Osborn Pond, near hole 15.

Last fall 10,000 pinky-size coho were released there and more than 2,000 have grown strong enough to swim up a fish ladder, where a trap holds them for counting.

Peter McCully of the Goldstream hatchery showed the students the fish waiting in the trap. They’ve grown to the length of his hand.

“These are healthy fish,” he tells them, scooping one up for the class to see as he explains how the salmon will eventually swim down Millstream Creek to reach the ocean, and if all goes as planned they’ll return to the pond to breed in two or three years.

It’s an encouraging sight, especially when taken in contrast to Goldstream River, where the only fish are belly-up.

After the spill, classes that would normally empty their tanks in the river had to find alternate locations.

Golf course superintendent Darren Burns jumped at the opportunity to have the students come to Osborn Pond.

“It’s great to have the kids involved,” Burns said. “It’s sad what happened at Goldstream, and this is something we can do to help.”

While other school groups came with their own fish, the 300 chum salmon Dranchuk’s class put in the pond were raised at the Goldstream hatchery.

Once all the fish were safely in the pond, Burns showed the students another natural habitat nestled among the golf course: A cougar den. The cat wasn’t there, but Burns showed the students bits of deer carcass it had left as proof that it visits the den from time to time.

Francis Parkinson, general managers of Bear Mountain Resort, came along for the tour.

“We’ve only had two reported sightings of the cougar on the golf course,” Parkinson said. “I don’t think it comes here much.”

 

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