Ancient high-tech

Dave Robichaud

Dave Robichaud

A unique fish wheel created with centuries-old technology was used near Mission Tuesday to harvest and assess pink salmon.

Biologists from the Pacific Salmon Foundation and the Tsawwassen and Matsqui First Nations members are jointly carrying out the work, which is part of a broader initiative to apply innovative methods to improve in-season assessments about numbers and types of salmon as they migrate through the lower Fraser River.

“It’s the only one of its type anywhere,” says Karl English, president and senior fisheries biologist with LGL Limited Environmental Research Associates. “We don’t know of any fish wheel either similar size or certainly similar design. It’s a totally unique design.”

The fish wheel is a giant framed basket that rotates like a paddle and pulls fish from the river. The unit is mounted on a floating frame and is anchored at Crescent Island. The net stands more than six metres high and has harvested more than 15,000 pink salmon this season.

The fish are scooped up by the baskets as they rotate along the bottom of the river, propelled by the current. When the basket lifts up, the fish slide to a padded funnel at the bottom that is angled towards a hole. The fish then pass directly into waiting totes on a boat.

When these are filled, with up to 250 salmon each, the boat leaves for the mainland and a second vessel slides into place. The salmon are then loaded onto trucks and sent to the packers.

Dr. Brian Riddell, president and CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation, says the baskets are effective for selective fishing.

Fisheries Canada permitted the First Nations bands to undertake the commercial harvest due to its selective nature.

The pink harvest will run 10-15 days, said English.