A school of Chinook salmon fry

Dammed for 100 years

qathet Living, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

It’s been a century since sockeye and chum have spawned in Unwin Lake. That’s because the creek between Desolation Sound and Unwin was dammed for logging.

Now, Tla’amin Nation’s new lands and resources director, Denise Smith, is spearheading a project to reintroduce the salmon.

This spring, the Unwin Lake Sockeye Salmon Reintroduction Project migrated out of the first study phase. All that stands between the fish and their spawning ground is either removing the dam, or building a channel.

“Tla’amin Nation desires to rebuild anadromous (migrating from oceans to rivers for spawning) populations of sockeye and coho salmon into Unwin lake watershed. We would also like to restore chum salmon into the lower reaches on Unwin Creek,” says Denise.

The project initially started back in 2020. That’s when Tla’amin’s previous director of lands and resources, Cathy Galligos, was exploring the possibility of reintroducing sockeye into the Unwin lake watershed.

To understand whether the lakes could sustain sockeye, the Nation studied the kokanee that currently live there. Kokanee are a landlocked fish that are a distant relative of sockeye salmon. Sockeye and kokanee have similar diets and live in similar conditions. The biggest difference between the two is that kokanee live their entire lives in lakes.

Denise says the first study-phase was on fish habitat, Unwin’s fish community, hydrology, fish barrier assessments, water quality, lake productivity, and a channel by-pass design.

The Nation has received about $190,000 in federal and provincial grants towards the project so far.

“The water hydrology assessment was done in February 2021, with the installation of a hydrometric gauge to measure water flow and monitor total discharge out of the lake and into Unwin creek.”

The study was done by Ecofish Research Ltd. and Tla’amin Nation member, Scott Galligos.

Even though water quality was reported to be suitable for sockeye, Denise says more time is needed for a channel by-pass design.

The Nation, Ecofish Research, and partners will meet to discuss the next steps for Unwin Lake.

“Tla’amin Nation wishes to see the project move onto its next phase; which would be continuing data collection of the Unwin watershed, confirm a channel by-pass design, and secure funding to complete the works,” says Denise.

“This sockeye salmon reintroduction initiative will benefit the broader regional community, and we will be seeking partnerships to further this work and reach the end result – returning sockeye salmon to the system.”

Top image credit: Chinook fry grow at the Powell River Salmon Society’s Duck Lake hatchery (above), along with chum and coho. Tla’amin Nation is studying how to reintroduce sockeye, coho and chum to the ancient spawning grounds at Unwin Lake, in Desolation Sound. – Photo courtesy Abby Francis

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