It has long been a vision of the Alouette River Management Society, local municipal governments, professional biologists and Katzie First Nation to see the return of sockeye and other salmon to the upper Alouette River Watershed. The establishment of the Alouette Dam in 1928 blocked spawning migrations of sockeye, coho, chum, steelhead and possibly sea run cutthroat trout. These fish, especially sockeye salmon, are an important part of the culture and food supply of the Katzie First Nations.
Prior to dam construction, the Alouette system supported a sizeable sockeye population. Unlike other salmon species, sockeye require access to a lake to successfully complete their life cycle. Sockeye salmon rear in lakes as juveniles for approximately one year before migrating to the sea as smolts. With access to Alouette Lake obstructed by the Alouette Dam, sockeye salmon were extirpated from the Alouette Watershed and have remained so for over 70 years.
Migratory chinook, coho, pink, chum, steelhead and cutthroat trout would have also spawned and/or reared upstream of the dam. Chinook in particular utilized Gold Creek as their preferred natal stream. The dam reduced the range of habitat for these species, which continue to persist downstream of the dam.
In 2000, ARMS applied for funds from Bridge Coastal Fish and Wildlife Restoration Program to move forward with our dream of returning sockeye to the Alouette River. This application was turned down as a previous report, commissioned by BC Hydro, determined that it was not feasible to bring sockeye above the dam. BCRP advised that they would allocate $5,000 for a review of this report and ARMS hired Harvey Andersak to undertake this role. The earlier report was challenged which allowed ARMS to move forward.
In 2002 ARMS applied to Bridge Coastal Restoration Program for funds to determine the biological, physical and operational issues associated with return sockeye system. ARMS hired LGL Limited, based in Sydney, to study the amount of spawning grounds in the tributaries of the reservoir. Ward and Associates were hired to answer the questions of operations of the hydro dam. Both studies again returned with favourable results. To review this report, please see: www.bchydro.com/projects/docs/bridge_river/03AL03.pdf
The next step was to determine if sockeye returned and spawned successfully, where they would go when they emerged – over the spillway or through the tunnel leading into the Stave. There was also the question of whether they would survive the ride over the spillway and into the river. Bridge Coastal once again funded the project in 2004 and BC Hydro agreed to open the spillway for a few weeks in April and May.