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Hungry otters end annual Greater Victoria area salmon count after 10 days

Colquitz Creek counted halted as otter pups taught to exploit salmon traps used for the count
Dorothy Chambers above the Colquitz Creek footbridge formerly used to catch and count coho salmon. The practice ended for the year on Oct. 10 after otters threatened their numbers. (Kiernan Green/News Staff)

The annual Colquitz Creek salmon count was closed after only 10 days following mounting concerns that otters’ hunting habits would prove detrimental to the efforts.

The annual count, which Salmon in the City Project facilitators began Sept. 30, stopped on Oct. 10 with a count of one female and 10 male salmon. Last year’s partial count from September to November reported a total of 176 coho salmon, while 2016’s full count, running until December, totalled 1,121.

“There’s been (salmon) data collected here since 2001, and it’s more important for the safety and health of the salmon to carry their migration stream than it is to hold them back to collect more data,” said Salmon in the City Project coordinator and environmentalist Dorothy Chambers.

This year’s count was closed before the embark of the annual salmon migration due to the otter threat.

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The project team removed one of the grating panels placed under the Colquitz Creek footbridge near Burnside Road, which was in place to corral salmon into a shoreside cage to be counted. Prior to the panel’s removal and despite their best efforts against it, the Salmon in the City Project team determined that local otters were teaching their pups to squeeze between the cage bars for a feast.

The otter’s hunting habits have gotten worse since it was first reported last year, Chambers said. Although she couldn’t determine a link to human activity, Chambers said the number of otters, seals and sea lions in Greater Victoria’s salmon-bearing streams (including Colquitz and Craigwater Creeks) has increased in the last three years. Developments impeding salmon migration and habitat – such as the McKenzie Interchange – have also posed a threat to their urban numbers, she said.

READ ALSO: Area residents concerned about aftermath of McKenzie interchange construction

A decline in salmon would be remarkably damaging to Greater Victoria’s rainforest ecosystem, Chambers said. Besides their position in the food chain, the decomposing bodies of coho salmon provide vital nutrients for rainforest plants surrounding their waters. “That’s why we get the rainforests that we have,” Chambers said.

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