As of last month, Meghan Rooney, our fieldwork specialist, is back in the field for a second year of collecting data on habitat and water quality and fish for Resilient Waters.
Resilient Waters is a project we initiated with MakeWay Canada to assess the impacts of aging flood structures on waterways in the lower Fraser River and to build the case for upgrades that will increase and improve salmon habitat.
To date, the Resilient Waters team has visited over 100 sites, prioritizing 25 of these for upgrades. In 2021, one of these priority sites received a fish-friendly upgrade with the replacement of an old floodgate on Lower Agassiz Slough. And, thanks to a recently announced second phase of funding through the BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund, three more priority sites will receive fish-friendly flood infrastructure upgrades in the near future.
We asked Meghan a few questions about her fieldwork plans for this year.
What does Resilient Waters fieldwork involve this year?
This year, we will be returning multiple times to 15 of the identified high priority sites to collect data. Some of these sites have now received funding for restoration, such as Tilbury Slough in Delta.
Sites are located all across the lower Fraser from Agassiz to Coquitlam to Delta. At each site, we spend several days setting and pulling fish traps to identify and count fish and amphibians we catch. We also collect information on water quality including temperature and dissolved oxygen levels. This work is almost always done from canoes.
Who participates in the fieldwork?
The fieldwork is led by the team from Pearson Ecological and supported by staff from both Watershed Watch and Kerr Wood Leidal. Indigenous Guardians from the territories we are working in often join us to support with data collection. Sometimes we are also joined by local elected officials, photographers and Watershed Watch volunteers.
How does this year’s fieldwork compare to last year’s?
Returning to the same sites, and with many of the same field team members, we have a level of familiarity, with the sites and with each other, so we are working very effectively. Of course, there are always curve balls when it comes to fieldwork, whether it’s unfavourable tides or fallen trees blocking our way. The weather so far this field season has already been much wetter and colder than last year. I hope that means a more mild summer as we shut down work last year due to the intense heat.
What are some highlights of the field season so far?
A couple of sites I missed last year I have been able to visit this year, including Yorkson Creek in Langley. It has been great to experience these new sites and see firsthand the state of these waterways.
At Yorkson Creek we also trapped a few juvenile lamprey. It has been a couple years since I last observed them so I was quite excited to see them in the trap! They’re not as cute as juvenile salmon, but I find them fascinating. The anadromous and parasitic Pacific lamprey has a lot of similarities in habitat requirements as salmon and faces declines due to many of the same factors including disconnected habitat.
What species of salmon are you trapping?
It depends on the site we are visiting but we usually find coho and Chinook and sometimes chum. We take small fin clips of the Chinook and coho salmon we trap and these clips will be sent to a lab at UBC to determine where these fish are coming from.
What other species do you commonly come across?
Other fish we catch include three-spine sticklebacks, a common native species which can tolerate most conditions. At some more disturbed sites with poor water quality, we find invasive species almost exclusively. This includes non-native species such as pumpkinseed, a type of sunfish which is widespread in the lower Fraser River. I wrote a blog last year about some of the species we trap, which you can read here.
How can people sign up to volunteer in the field?
I will be taking a couple of volunteers out to help with data collection each week over the coming months. Spaces are limited and spots fill up fast, so to stay up to date on opportunities, sign up to volunteer on our website and join our new meetup group. Expect a physical and muddy but rewarding day in the field!