Natasha Shamji plants trees for salmon in Chiliwack
For some it’s about the salmon, for others, it’s the trees. Stephanie Shamji has spent the past five years at the helm of Party Tree Rentals, an event planning business she founded with her husband in Chilliwack.
Shamji’s time is packed – and while a full calendar is great for business, Shamji also knows it comes at an environmental cost. “We have to use industrial irons for our linens, electricity, one ton trucks and cargo vans,” she says.
To balance the environmental leger, Shamji and her team decided to volunteer by planting trees. Through her research she discovered the Fraser Valley Watershed Coalition, a small nonprofit that strives to create healthy watersheds and communities. The coalition invited Shamji and her employees to spend a few hours working on a salmon habitat restoration project near Stave River. “I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. None of us had done something like this before,” says Shamji.
It was on the riverbanks of the Stave that her tree planting dreams collided with salmon habitat protection. The FVWC has been working in the area to restore habitats for salmon as they migrate up and down the river, and part of that work includes planting shrubs, small trees and other vegetation to protect the waters.
After a short hike and an information session about the historical significance of the area, Shamji and her crew got down to business at the site. “It initially seemed like, wow, this is a lot of work we have to do,” says Shamji. But a little friendly competition among the team sped up the process and they finished early. Their efficient work has made a lasting impact on the salmon, and on her team. “It wasn’t just that day. We walked away feeling so good and kind of euphoric.” She says. “Weeks after were still talking about it, telling our friends about it.”
Stephanie Shamji (third from right) and her team volunteering to plant trees for the Fraser River Watershed Coalition. Photo credit: Natashia Cox
Reece Fowler has a salmon renaissance at Seymour
Reece Fowler loves bugs. Originally from New Zealand, he spent most of his working life as a freshwater ecologist, tramping in streams and rivers. After moving to Canada, he began to work on larger industrial projects, like coal mines, which he admits wasn’t what he’d hoped for.
Then in late 2016 he was laid off. He knew about the Seymour Hatchery because of his trail running excursions and after signing up to its newsletter he decided to use his extra time to lend a hand.
It’s only been a few months, but he has been involved in numerous activities, including catching salmon that have been trapped at the bottom of the Seymour River by the remnants of the 2014 rockslide. He helps capture those fish and truck them up to the hatchery where they can complete their journey.
As a Kiwi in Canada who has loved fishing his whole life, one of the more exciting aspects for Reece is the opportunity to see salmon in their natural habitat. “In New Zealand we have trout and there is one species of salmon that was introduced from Haida Gwaii years and years ago, Chinook salmon. I never had any involvement with salmon in New Zealand,” he says. “I didn’t know where they actually came from, so getting to see them in their habitat… being introduced to these species was pretty cool.”
As Reece stays on the hunt for employment, he says volunteering at the hatchery keeps him inspired to focus on finding work that’s closer to his heart, closer to conservation. He learns from the locals who volunteer at the hatchery, and he gets a chance to give his five-year-old daughter a behind-the-scenes look at how the hatchery works, which he hopes will inspire her to get involved, too.
His advice for people interested in helping out: “Give it a go. Don’t be worried or afraid that you won’t be able to do it… and don’t be afraid of the water because you’re going to get wet!”
Janice Martin cares for salmon on Bowen Island
Janice Martin has only been volunteering since last winter, but her knowledge of how hatcheries work has grown by leaps and bounds.
Martin, who lives on Bowen Island, retired young after working in project management for a software company and knew she wanted to get involved in the community and work outdoors. After expressing interest at volunteering at the hatchery, the team took her under their wing. “I didn’t really know much about salmon,” she says.
That’s since changed. Every week, Janice spends a day maintaining the fragile simulated ecosystem at the hatchery run by the Bowen Island Fish and Wildlife Club.
Like the seasons there are different stages to the work at the hatchery, and Janice has been involved in most. She checks water temperature, counts the eggs, cleans trays to ensure the water is clear and helps transfer the fry once they outgrow their tray homes. The public is invited in June to say goodbye to the fish. “Of course it’s always pretty exciting when we actually release, because it’s the culmination of our work, and we involve the community, so that’s fun,” says Martin.
The small team of volunteers who run the hatchery represent the many on Bowen Island who care about the fish as much as they do. “Here we are so passionate about salmon,” says Martin. That care extends beyond the hatchery. “The creeks have been very dry at the end of the summer and people are going out to make sure the Coho are still there,” she says.
When Chum are released, they swim out to the ocean within a few days. But Coho are different. They stay in the creeks for a year before making the big swim. “So if your creeks dry up and you have Coho you may lose all of them,” she explains. “People go to various creeks where we have released them and they’ll look for them. There’s a real caring by most people.”
Her advice for those looking to make the leap into hatchery volunteering is to do their research, and then find their local association and make a field trip. “I would recommend contacting the nearest hatchery. You can read up on it, there are publications, but it doesn’t really give you a feel.”
For Martin, volunteering means more than just having fun. “I realize how critical the salmon are to our whole environment. I am one of those passionate people who want to see the success of this program.”
If you’re interested in volunteering, or just connecting with organizations that restore and protect salmon and salmon habitat, check out this list created by the Pacific Streamkeepers Federation, and chances are, you’ll find a community organization close to you.
The Pacific Salmon Foundation, our first community partner, is a national, independent non-profit organization with a mandate to restore and enhance salmon in BC and the Yukon. You can sign up for their newsletter on the home page of their website.
And we have a number of organizations listed in our Connect Outdoors section – so you have lots of options! We hope you’ll try one soon.