Vedder/Chilliwack Steelhead Telemetry Study 2000

by Vic Carrao

The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Fish and Wildlife Management, is studying the behavior of both wild and hatchery steelhead in the Vedder/Chilliwack River watershed in 1999-2000.

As part of this 2-year study, fisheries technicians will be applying 130 radio transmitters to equal numbers of wild and hatchery steelhead from December 1999 through May 2000. Following release, radio-tagged steelhead will be tracked to upstream holding and spawning areas with the use of a mobile receiver and 4 stationary telemetry receivers. During year-1 of the study in 1999, 72 steelhead were radio tagged, released, and subsequently tracked to reveal the individual fates of each fish. Valuable information was gained during this first “pilot” year of research, including a new understanding of the locations of both pre-spawning behavior and spawning locations, for both wild and hatchery fish. In addition, the first reliable estimates of post-spawning survival rates of Vedder/Chilliwack steelhead were produced through the telemetry program.

Year two (the final year) of the study will build on the information gained in year one. The information collected during this 2-year study will determine if:

  • Early-migrating fish have a different spawning distribution that late-migrating fish
  • Wild fish have different migration patterns that hatchery fish
  • Hatchery fish spawn at the same time and location as wild fish
  • Males have different migration patterns than females, and survive spawning at different rates
  • Wild and hatchery fish survive spawning at different rates
  • Multiple recaptures of fish occur by anglers, and if there is an incidental mortality as a result of angling
  • Spawning occurs in the vicinity of Vedder Floodway gravel-removal pits (near Yarrow)

Steelhead will also be tagged with a brightly colored spaghetti tag (attached behind the dorsal fin). Printed on each spaghetti tag is a toll-free phone number (1-888-550-0049) and a unique 3-digit tag number (i.e., tag number 457). Anglers that capture any tagged steelhead are requested to:

  1. document (write down) the 3-digit spaghetti tag number and the toll-free phone number.
  2. when convenient, call the toll-free phone number and report:
    1. the 3-digit tag number;
    2. the date of capture;
    3. the location of capture (nearest landmark);
    4. a contact name and phone number (optional; see footnote regarding prize draw below).*

By regulation, all wild steelhead must be released. Anglers are requested to release radio-tagged hatchery steelhead. Radio tags, inserted through the mouth and into the stomach of steelhead, have a thin plastic-coated wire antenna that exits through the mouth; please do not pull on this wire or remove the radio tag. If a radio tag is removed, or the steelhead dies, please return the tag to your nearest Conservation Officer Service office; the returned radio tags can be redeployed during this study.

Year-2 of the study is off to a good start, with 52 steelhead being tagged as of January 23. To date, there have been 8 reported recaptures of tagged fish. Unfortunately, 4 radio tags have been removed from fish by anglers (3 fish were killed and one tag was pulled out); all 4 tags were returned and will be used later in the study. Last year’s study estimated that at least 1 out of 3 steelhead captured by angling will be recaptured at least once and that several more will be captured a third time prior to spawning. Individual tagged wild steelhead were reported as being captured and released up to 5 times during the 1999 study.

To date, angler participation has been excellent, with a lot of positive feedback regarding the study. There are currently 10 volunteer anglers helping out with the study. Fisheries technicians Jim Rissling and CEJ Mussell coordinate and conduct the radio tagging efforts; they are frequently on the river and may approach anglers that capture a steelhead and request permission to tag the fish. Anglers who donate hatchery fish for tagging are given a project hat; anglers who donate hatchery or wild fish get their name placed a draw for prizes donated from local tackle shops, and a photo of the angler releasing the fish.

This Vedder/Chilliwack Steelhead Telemetry study is supported by:

  • Habitat Conservation Trust Fund
  • BC Ministry of Fisheries
  • Science Council of BC
  • Fisheries Renewal BC
  • Public Conservation Assistance Fund
  • Chilliwack Fish and Game Protective Association
  • BC Federation of Drift Fishers
  • Sapperton Fish and Game
  • Steelhead Society of BC
  • Fraser River Salmon Society
  • Chilliwack River Hatchery (DFO)
  • Fraser Valley Regional Watersheds Coalition

The project is administered by the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Fish and Wildlife Management, Surrey, BC (contact Marvin Rosenau or Peter Caverhill; 604-582-5200). Project management and biotelemetry expertise provided by LGL Limited environmental research associates, Sidney, BC (contact Troy Nelson; 604-535-1768).

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