One with the fish: a day conducting salmon research with our Summer Stewardship Program

Summer student, Abby Young, shares her experience with the Tsawwassen First Nation Stewardship Program.

“Who’s ready to rumble?” yells Captain Sean, his jolly head poking out the port-side window of the BellaRose. I extend my hand to each of my six youth participants as they climb aboard the vessel. A warm salty breeze washes over me as we embark together on today’s project. This will be a good day.

We pull softly out of the harbour, leaving the houseboats bobbing yellow and blue behind us in the mellow ripples of our wake. As Dave Scott, Research and Restoration Coordinator for Raincoast’s Lower Fraser Salmon Program, and the other scientists discuss the fish-sampling agenda, the youth and I chat giddily about what species we hope to see.

“I want to catch a giant dinosaur Sturgeon,” announces Sienna, who shares how, as a young girl, her grandparents told her traditional stories of the White Sturgeon.

Boat with people on it pulling up a net used to sampling.
Photo by Abby Young.
Tubesnout fish in a viewfinder.
Photo by Abby Young.

The moment epitomizes the Two-Eyed Seeing approach in action, as the scientists’ discussion of ichthyological details is overlaid by Sienna’s family lore of this place. I am grateful to be here and honoured to be part of the unfolding of a new generation of environmental stewards.

Today we are going to be capturing, identifying, and releasing juvenile salmon at Raincoast’s restoration site on the Steveston Jetty, where they have created 3 breaches in a 8km long structure that has blocked access to salmon habitat for over 100 years. This is one of many field days we have spent on the water, delving deeper into the intricacies of wildlife conservation, and learning first hand about the important work that goes into species and habitat protection. Days like today always end in smiles, and I can’t wait to experience all the excitement this one will bring.

Breach in the jetty before restoration.Breach in the jetty after restoration.
Before and after restoration at the Steveston Jetty.

As we continue on our voyage, a symphony of groans, howls, and squeals in the distance reaches us. The boat approaches, slowly, and we see Steller sea lions basking in the hot sun, with salty water droplets glistening off their plump brown bellies. The image of these sunbathing beauties reminds me it’s time to reapply our sunscreen, as we head to our first sampling location.  

Excitement fills the air as the BellaRose slows to rest near another Raincoast vessel. Members of Raincoast’s wild salmon team are hard at work sampling at the Steveston Jetty. We watch as they pull up the thick, green seine net and anticipate a neon orange bucket making its way to our boat, filled with marine creatures. Any second now….

Yes! The fish have been transported successfully from the net to the observation buckets and are on their way to our boat. The youth and I eagerly gather around Dave to see what he will pull first from the bucket and place into a fish viewfinder. “Look what we have here!” he announces, displaying our first object of study at eye level.

I watch the youth’s faces light up with the reflection of a long, skinny tubesnout in their gleaming eyes. It dances around the viewer like an inflatable advertisement creature whose torso swivels in the wind. After much deliberation, we have measured and named our tubesnout friend Eddie, and released him back to his bottom-feeding friends.

The orange bucket is a treasure chest for those of us in the Stewardship Program. Each species Dave draws garners curiosity and excitement. We examine flounders, trout, stickleback, and a plethora of other exciting aquatic life, but most importantly: salmon. The species we most hoped to find has once again returned to McNeely Bay, and as Dave inspects the juveniles while describing his identification tactics, we hang onto his every word. After a few more sampling locations and lots of successful data collection, we begin the return to harbour.

As we approach the shore, I see Tsawwassen territory in the foreground, waves lapping against the unique tidal marsh bordering it. Beyond the coastline lies the breathtaking North Shore mountains, the place where I so luckily spend my days. The sense of home is undeniable, and I am overwhelmed with appreciation for this summer’s experience learning about the interconnectedness of Indigenous communities and delving deeper into symbiotic ecosystem functions, a metaphoric mirror of the sight of Greater Vancouver.

The Tsawwassen youth participants and their community have welcomed me to their home over the past few months, showing me firsthand what land stewardship looks like. It’s been an opportunity I could only have dreamed of.  

I hop onto the dock and aid those disembarking the BellaRose. We say our goodbyes and our thank yous: hay čxʷ q̓ə o’siem in Hun’qumi’num’, the traditional dialect of Tsawwassen First Nation. We are on our way.

Captain Sean waves goodbye as we pile into our shuttle. As the view of those bobbing houseboats and the smell of low-tide seaweed fade into the distance, I reflect on what an informative and important day it has been, promising myself to hold onto the sights, smells, and sounds forever in my memory. Another day of our Stewardship Program has passed, and man, was it ever a good one.

Our annual report is out now!

Get highlights from the year, our science, flagship projects, staff and volunteers, as well as a peek at what’s in store for the coming year.

Research scientist, Adam Warner conducting genetics research in our genetics lab.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.