Portage Inlet Cutthroat Initiative
We created the Portage Inlet Cutthroat Initiative (PICI, pronounced “peachy”) with Mick Collins of the Victoria Golden Rods and Reels, Ian Bruce of the Peninsula Streams Society, and Bruce Bevan of Esqumalt Anglers in late 2018, to restore the coastal cutthroat trout of the Portage Inlet watersheds. The initiative quickly grew with the support of several organizations, angling groups and a consulting firm – all with an interest in building up the declining urban coho and cutthroat numbers in the Colquitz River and Craigflower Creek watersheds.
PICIs work will help ensure salmonids remain in our urban waterways!
Coho salmon fry (left) and a cutthroat trout parr (right) from Colquitz River
Coastal cutthroat trout (CCT) have abundant spots, yellowish fins and two distinct orange-red slashed under their jaw. Sea-run cutthroat, those that spend part of their lives in saltwater, often have less spots than those that remain in freshwater, are quite sliver and can completely lack the coloured slash under their jaw.
Cutthroat are in the same genus as Pacific salmon, though unlike most other Pacific salmonids they can survive spawning. Some will stay in fresh water their whole lives!
Salmonids require healthy freshwater streams with clear water, abundant oxygen, shade from riparian vegetation, plenty of hiding spaces, clean gravel, and abundant insect and benthic invertebrate populations. Many of these requirements are under threat by urbanization, especially in Colquitz River and Craigflower Creek. These two systems still support both cutthroat and coho, but at low numbers compared to historical abundance.
Just one of many piles of garbage removed from Colquitz River in 2018
Why do we care?
The Coastal Cutthroat Trout (CCT) is an excellent indicator of ecosystem health. It sticks around close to its home stream, even as sea-run individuals. As such, it is more isolated from the distant ocean survival that affects other salmon populations, and can be a better indicator of local conditions and habitat improvements. Nevertheless, it is relatively little studied.
It is blue-listed in BC, because of reduced populations, likely from past overfishing and continuing human impacts on their habitat. We feel that a better understanding and greater public profile can contribute to improved stewardship of all aquatic ecosystems, particularly in urban streams where they live and share space with other salmon.
What are we doing?
We are monitoring our urban Cutthroat and Coho populations and their habitat with visual observations, minnow trapping, electrofishing, seining, benthic invertebrate sampling, and water quality testing. We have several temperature data loggers in Colquitz and Craigflower to keep an eye on seasonal temperature fluctuations and hope to install flow dataloggers in 2021! In the future, we plan to add Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tagging and Environmental DNA (eDNA) to monitor these fish. Coupled with historical information, this monitoring and assessment helps focus restoration and monitor restoration effectiveness.
Our urban waterways are not the pristine streams they once were and as a result they require some tender loving care! Anchored large woody debris for fish to hide under, riffles to aerate and cool the water, and gravel places for fish to spawn – are often degraded in urban streams due to channelization, ditching, riparian vegetation destruction, and road runoff. Heavy rain events in the fall and winter rapidly increase flow washing out important features and salmon eggs. We work with local partners, such as the Peninsula Streams Society, to rebuild and maintain these important features, resulting in more habitat for salmonids.
We work with the Salmon in the City Project to provide education to school groups at the fish counting fence on Colquitz River near Tillicum Mall, as well as through our Seaquaria Ocean Education programs. If your class or group would like to come learn more, please contact us! We also offer Streamkeepers certification courses in collaboration with the Peninsula Streams Society. This certification course teaches you how to assess, monitor and take care of streams in your area. To learn more about school programs or to be added to our Streamkeepers wait list please...
We have gone through multiple resources with publicly available information to create an interactive map of the PICI watersheds. The information available includes restoration sites, fish data and more!