Salmon spawning in Louis Creek

Whitecroft informational sign unveiled
The informational sign can be found near the future playground in Whitecroft. Photo SPIN.

Every fall, Whitecroft residents head to Louis Creek to marvel at the salmon splashing through, after the fish make the long-distance swim all the way from the Pacific Ocean.

But not everyone knows the salmon are there — or even why they travel upstream. To ensure locals and visitors keep out of the creek during spawning season, community members are working to spread awareness.

Joanne Nicklas, an education coordinator for Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), said chinook salmon can be found in Louis Creek during August and September, and coho salmon from the end of September through to December.

When it’s time to begin spawning, the salmon leave the ocean to swim upstream against rapids and waterfalls to reach small creeks where they lay thousands of eggs. The fish travel to streams to give their offspring a higher chance of survival, and typically return to the same creek they were born in.

“You look at Louis [Creek] in this area and you can see it going through the pastures and reeds, and you might think, ‘my gosh, how can that be a salmon spawning creek?’” Nicklas said.

“But Louis goes all the way down to the North Thompson River, as well as to some of the other little creeks to the north around the Barriere area … So they’re great for salmon spawning.”

Last fall, a couple in Whitecroft approached Nicklas with concerns over dogs playing in the creek and disturbing the fish. Nicklas agreed this was a problem and asked the president of the Whitecroft Community Association, Michelle Landry, if the village would consider putting up an informational sign.

Landry said she knew implementing a sign was important, so she formed a committee alongside Nicklas and two other community members to put the plan into action.

“[It’s] a good idea to educate the community a little bit more on what is actually happening in the creek,” Landry said. “The key issue is just to be sure that people and pets stay out of the creek during the spawning season.”

The committee worked alongside DFO and Simpcw First Nation to gather information on the salmon, and officially unveiled the sign in June.

The sign explains the chinook and coho salmon’s life cycle in detail. It says when the fish begin migrating to the local creeks, they become colourful and males develop hooked jaws, sharp canine teeth and sometimes humped backs.

Once they are ready to spawn, the females lay thousands of eggs in gravel nests, which are then fertilized with milt from the males. Shortly after spawning, the salmon complete their life cycle and die.

After developing inside the egg, the juvenile salmon emerge from the gravel and physically adapt to prepare for migration back to saltwater. Eventually, the salmon return to the ocean to live out their adult lives until they are ready to return to the creek and begin the cycle again.

“I live just upstream from Whitecroft and we can usually hear them in the fall splashing around,” Nicklas said. “That’s something that catches people’s interest right away and the Whitecroft people seem to all let each other know when the salmon are there.”

In an attempt for education on a larger scale, Nicklas’ job is to gather live salmon and take them to tanks in local schools or community centres. When the fish are ready to spawn, Nicklas fertilizes the eggs and places around 50 within each aquarium location.

The public then gets to watch the beginning of the salmon’s life cycle.

“Usually they get the eggs in November and in January they hatch,” Nicklas said. “By the end of January, they’re feeding them. And then in May, we release into the Tranquille river, which is just west of Kamloops.”

Nicklas said many years ago the salmon used to be taken out of Louis Creek, but the number of fish in the creek has naturally decreased — which demonstrates the importance of allowing the fish to spawn undisturbed.

Nicklas added that although DFO doesn’t keep inventory on other fish in the area besides salmon, Louis Creek is also known to house rainbow trout, white fish, pike, minnows, shiners, bass and sculpin.

The informational sign can be found near the future playground in Whitecroft.

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