Part 2: Hupacasath Fisheries: “Managing fisheries to maximize fish for today and fish for tomorrow”

Since the early 1990s, Hupacasath First Nation has worked collaboratively with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) on managing salmon returns to the Great Central and Sproat Lake systems. Over the years, this work has included both juvenile salmon out-migration and adult salmon escapement monitoring.

The first of this two part-series examined the ways Graham Murrell, Hupacasath Fisheries Manager/Biologist, and his fisheries crew monitor out-migrating juvenile hissit (sockeye salmon in fresh water). This second part explores the department’s efforts to monitor migrating adult salmon.

According to Huu-yik, Sabrina Crowley, Uu-a-thluk Southern Region Biologist, “The work Hupacasath Fisheries does is important in managing salmon returns to the Great Central and Sproat systems.”

Crowley, who has been a fisheries biologist with Uu-a-thluk for over a decade, understands the value of having high quality adult salmon escapement data.

“For sockeye salmon, technicians enumerate escapement to each system and collect biological samples to determine age composition, sex and size at age. Monitoring escapement to each of the systems is important to ensure enough salmon are making it back to each lake to spawn,” she added.

Enumeration occurs via a video counting system that Hupacasath Fisheries technicians Leon and Lesley Lauder, and Cameron Tatoosh oversee. Hupacasath and DFO jointly operate the counting systems located at the Sproat and Stamp River fishways.

“Hupacasath technicians monitor the fishways daily to ensure the counters are properly functioning and that no obstructions to fish passage have become lodged … and also review the video footage from the fish counters to collect raw data,” said Pieter Van Will, Program Head, WCVI Salmon Stock Assessment with DFO.

The fish camera technology used to capture footage and assess the fish is sophisticated, however, that has not always been the case.

Beginning in the 1980s, DFO operated a Pulsar electronic fish counting system. The fish were directed through tunnels in the fishways, logging a count each time a fish passed through the tunnel. Hupacasath Fisheries began operating the salmon escapement program in the early 1990s. The Pulsar data had to be calibrated, which meant Hupacasath staff would lie on top of the fishway and count fish exiting the tunnels with a clicker.

As the technology evolved, a video camera system was introduced in 2014, allowing fish to be seen and counted as they passed through the tunnels.

Since 2014, enhanced lighting and high-definition cameras capturing every fish going through have improved the ability to count returning salmon.

 “We have full coverage 24/7, so we can get a lot more information now,” said Murrell.

Technicians watch footage from the fishway tunnels on a computer monitor and input the raw data they collect into an escapement database that Hupacasath and DFO run collaboratively. The database creates reports that incorporate all the biodata collected on the salmon through the fishways (species, age, sex, presence or absence of an adipose fin) and uploads them automatically to the PACFish website which hosts the live camera footage, as well as to DFO’s Hydromet Stations.

Up until recently, Hupacasath’s technicians have been working in a space best described as “rustic.” A recent upgrade to the working space at the Sproat River site has been a welcome change for the Lauders and Tatoosh.

The new building, being constructed in partnership between Hupacasath and DFO, is in the final stages of development. The structure is much larger and more modern than the 10-foot by 12-foot “shack” the technicians have been working in and will include a fully functional washroom (something the previous dwelling did not provide).

“They’re building an extension of the waterline from a nearby house,” said Murrell.

Murrell and Van Will agree that the long-standing working relationship between Hupacasath Fisheries and DFO is integral to the success of local salmon stock monitoring.

“Data and samples from these programs collected by Hupacasath staff are passed on to DFO for analyses that inform on status of local salmon populations, management of salmon fisheries and forecasts of next year’s salmon returns,” said Van Will.

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