Things fishy in Dundas
July 22 2011 / www.thespec.com
- Matthew Van Dongen
Scattered applause greeted "ghostbuster" Karen Buchanan, otherwise known as a fisheries technologist, as she entered the deep pool under the bridge wearing a backpack-mounted electrofishing machine.
As Buchanan zapped pulses of electricity into the water, Shari Faulkenham scooped up stunned fish that floated to the surface.
Believe it or not, the fish will be grateful for all of this later.
"We're getting rid of a major barrier to fish passage," said Faulkenham, an ecologist with the Hamilton Conservation Authority. "But to do that, we need to dry up this whole area (under the bridge). So we needed to start with a kind of fish rescue mission."
The conservation authority and the city teamed up Thursday and Friday to eliminate a long-standing man-made barrier to fishy travellers trying to swim upstream in Spencer Creek to spawn.
The $300,000 construction project created a "fish byway" — a kind of rocky ramp dotted with deep pools of water — designed to bypass two large, metal weirs under the Dundas bridge.
That's important, said Faulkenham, because Spencer Creek is part of "one of the most important spawning grounds in Lake Ontario."
Faulkenham said the creek empties into Cootes Paradise, the aquatic equivalent of a maternity ward.
"When you think about all the fish in western Lake Ontario, most of them were probably born in Cootes Paradise and Spencer Creek," she said. "It's a very, very important area."
The project actually opens up a second breeding highway, because Spring Creek joins Spencer Creek just upstream of the bridge on the edge of Dundas.
Beating the barrier was a complex trick. Construction workers had to dry the area under the bridge by rerouting creek flow into a large pipe.
Faulkenham and her team also had to round up the underwater locals before heavy machinery started tearing up the creek bed. Workers rescued dozens of fish, large and small, as well as an endangered American eel, and released them downstream on Thursday.
Faulkenham expected most of the heavy construction to be finished Friday, or early next week. There is more work to be done, however. Another seven "major barriers" block Spencer Creek between the new project and the escarpment, said Faulkenham.
A looming environmental assessment is expected to offer solutions for the remaining barriers.