fishy 

When the organizers of Whistler's first-ever fish monitoring program set their traps and nets in three valley bottom streams this spring they had no idea what to expect. Then the fish came. Rainbow trout, ranging from two-foot monsters to small fry, found themselves trapped, tagged and monitored as a dedicated group of conservationists, anglers and local Rotarians kicked off what Ministry of Environment officials are calling one of the most successful community-run fish enhancement programs in the province. In the crisp morning air of May 19 the first fish were trapped in Crabapple Creek, in a trap erected and monitored by the Whistler Rotary Club. When the fish started showing up they were bigger and in greater numbers than anyone expected. The fish traps erected in Crabapple Creek, 21 Mile Creek and the River of Golden Dreams were designed to trap spawning fish. Once caught, the fish were measured, tagged and released. The nets are all out now, save for one in Crabapple Creek, set for spawning Kokanee. But information gathered will allow fisheries technicians to track spawning and feeding patterns of the local fish population and to determine the impact expanded commercial and residential development has on Whistler's fishery — once the lure that brought well-heeled Vancouverites up Howe Sound to the Rainbow Lodge. "I'm really pleased with the amount of effort the community put into the project in spite of some of the difficulties they encountered," says Rob Knight, fisheries technician with the Ministry of Environment. The monitoring wasn’t always easy. The Whistler Angling Club waged a valiant battle with the fish fence on 21 Mile Creek as the fast, cool stream threatened the integrity of the trap. Rotarians maintained a constant vigil over the surprisingly prolific waters of Crabapple Creek and the municipality looked after two traps — one at the River of Golden Dreams Fish Weir and another at the Highway 99 crossing at Meadow Park. Keith Bennett, of the Parks and Recreation department, says the municipality could not get the fish trap at the Highway 99 crossing to stay intact because of the volume of water and debris that was getting caught in the net. "We know now there would have to be some serious hardware involved in order to make that spot a viable part of the project… we all learned a lot," says Bennett, adding the Golden Dreams fish weir trap yielded a wealth of information. "One of the real benefits is we had a lot of exposure and education to local school kids through the program," Bennett says. "I think most people underestimated the numbers of fish in Whistler's system. Now we know how important every stream is and we have to work to protect and enhance them." According to Knight, the project has produced a wealth of data that can be interpreted and used to plot future enhancement projects. "Until I sit down and see what species of fish went where it is going to be hard to decide how this data will affect future plans. But we have the data now and that is the most important factor." Because of the great amount of community support, Knight says the prospect of service groups getting funding through B.C.'s new Urban Salmonid Enhancement Program is high. He says budgetary pressures in the Ministry of Environment have forced officials to pare back enhancement programs, but if community groups are willing to do the volunteer legwork the government will provide some seed cash and staff direction. Don MacLaurin of the Whistler Rotary Club says the energy generated by volunteers in the program is going to carry future fisheries projects along with it, as Whistler residents work together to enhance the valley's once famous angling. "One thing we know for sure is that the fishery in the valley has not been ruined by the development that has taken place, although it has been seriously impacted," MacLaurin says. "We have some very precious streams here and the ones that we studied so far are not the only ones we have to watch. We are only starting to study, the real work is yet to come." Meanwhile, Knight says the Whistler project will be taken to Environment Minister Moe Sihota as an example of successful community involvement in fisheries projects. "We are going to use this information to come up with a management plan for the lakes and streams that are on the valley bottom," he says. "But we still have to keep the big picture in mind. Fisheries management is something that has to be dealt with on a watershed basis, not just one stream at a time." A number of the fish in Whistler's waterways are now sporting coloured tags just behind their dorsal fins. If an angler catches a tagged fish, record the number on the tag and call it into the municipal public works yard at 932-2423.

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