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The baby salmon are drying up. Again.

July 25, 2021
baby salmon fry smolt rescue in stream on Vancouver Island

Once again, excessive heat combined with a drought make a deadly combination for salmon on Vancouver Island. Back in 2013, Dave and I did a rescue of dozens of baby salmon from a tiny pool that was drying up in the ravine beside out house in Port Alberni, moving them to a larger pool where they would hopefully survive until rain came.

Well, that was back in September. Now, we’re doing the same thing in July. Not sure that these salmon will make it until the autumn rains, but we’re trying anyway.

These photos are from a creek that tumbles (or should tumble) into Sproat Lake. We’ve been going on some hikes there lately, and watching the little pools shrink until they are the size of a frying pan – and then dry up. There’s a very smart snake who clearly understands that these are his frying pans: we see him at the edges of a different pool each day, once they have shrunk to nearly nothing and the fish in them are concentrated there and easy pickings.

baby salmon fry smolt rescue in stream on Vancouver Island

This weather and this drought: not only do they kill the baby salmon by drying them up, they also kill them by destroying the water quality (too warm, or algae blooms) and by exposing them to predators.

We executed a small rescue the other day – not like the last one where we caught the salmon in bulk in nets. This was just one tiny puddle with one terrified salmon scooting around and that snake lurking at the edge. It felt much more personal.

Dave said I would never be able to catch him with my bare hands (the salmon instinctively hide between or under the rocks) – but I knew that my childhood summer experiences at our cottage would serve me well, and I went for it. (Topside photos by Dave, underwater images by me on my new Sealife DC2000).

baby salmon fry smolt rescue in stream on Vancouver Island

I did catch that little guy – eventually. But as I did, another one scooted out. There were two in there! When I came back for the second guy, there was still another one in there. In all, I caught five baby salmon in this tiny puddle.

baby salmon fry smolt rescue in stream on Vancouver Island

The baby salmons’ instinct is to hide from predators, so they squeeze behind and under the rocks. It was a challenge for me to pull each one out of that pebbly pool without injuring them.

So much for our hike that day. Instead, we spent an hour catching five little guys!

baby salmon fry smolt rescue in stream on Vancouver Island

Then I would walk upstream, with a slippery little fish wiggling in my bare hands (super careful not to drop him on the dry rocks!) and release him into a larger, shaded pool.

baby salmon fry smolt rescue in stream on Vancouver Island

I’m not at all confident that this pool will make it through this drought either. We desperately need rain. And this is only July.

Here are some of the happier guys in the bigger pool:

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