The Portage Inlet Cutthroat Initiative in BC’s Capital Region: an example of how partnerships lead to success

Editor’s Context:

“In this issue of Waterbucket eNews, the Partnership for Water Sustainability features an article contributed by Heather Wright of Coastal Collaborative Sciences, a division of World Fisheries Trust, which is a small non-profit in Victoria. She tells the story of a group of organizations that coalesced under the banner of the Portage Inlet Cutthroat Initiative (PICI) in the Capital Region on Vancouver Island. The article is about collaborative leadership and citizen science in action.” states Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.

“PICI, a shining example of how partnerships lead to success, came together in late 2018. The catalyst for this grass-roots action was the continuing decline in cutthroat and coho numbers in the Colquitz River and Craigflower Creek. Both systems flow into Portage Inlet and the Gorge Waterway in the heart of Victoria. The Colquitz River is heavily urbanized and nearly every section has been altered to some extent in the past. By contrast, a large portion of Craigflower Creek is located in Thetis Lake Regional Park and is largely forested. However, the lower watershed is mixed residential and commercial land use.”

Citizen Science in Action

“Both of these systems struggle with pollution, sedimentation, high summer temperatures, low summer flows, and rapid changes in water level and flow with heavy rain events,” reports Heather Wright. “PICI was started by the World Fisheries Trust and Mick Collins of the Victoria Golden Rods and Reels. The initiative grew quickly with the support of several organizations, angling groups and a consulting firm.”

“When the Partnership learned of this success story, we invited the PICI team to share their experience with a province-wide audience because we hope it will inspire others to also share their stories of collaborative leadership and citizen science in action,” states Kim Stephens.



“Partnerships have been essential to all we have accomplished through the Portage Inlet Cutthroat Initiative.  Do not be afraid of partnering with others to achieve your goals,” stated Heather Wright, Research Coordinator, World Fisheries Trust

It Takes a Village to Build Grass-Roots Momentum

“The support of local angling groups and NGOs was what really got us going. Their donations and pledges of support were used as matching funds in our successful application to the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC,” states Heather Wright.

“From there, we were able to leverage their contributions to successfully apply for three more grants through the Pacific Salmon Foundation, World Wildlife Fund | Loblaw Water Fund and a supplement through the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC.

“In the span of just a few months we took PICI from a $7,000 project to a $64,000 project, including over 1,000 volunteer hours, all because of partner support !

“We started by compiling local literature on cutthroat trout to create an annotated bibliography and an INTERACTIVE MAP. We also held a series of meetings to gain feedback and local knowledge from our partners.

“Ron Ptolemy, a BC Government flow specialist and a member of the Haig-Brown Fly-Fishing Association, has done extensive work on Colquitz. He helped us by answering questions and providing data. In return, I assisted Haig-Brown volunteers in electrofishing two sites on the Colquitz to estimate juvenile salmonid abundance.

“Bruce Bevan of Esquimalt Anglers was instrumental in familiarizing us with the Craigflower watershed and the challenges it faces. He also conducted two guided tours: first, for Peninsula Streams and Dave Clough Consulting to identify restoration opportunities, and after that, for representatives from the BC Government and Freshwater Fisheries Society.”

About World Fisheries Trust:

“World Fisheries Trust started in 1995 with a project collecting and preserving salmon sperm from threatened stocks. Locally, we are dedicated to environmental stewardship, research and education. These projects are run by two education staff, two early career research staff (I’m one of these!), summer students, volunteers and our outstanding volunteer Executive Director, Joachim (Yogi) Carolsfeld,” explains Heather Wright.

“We have three stewardship/research projects focusing on Olympia oysters and Pacific herring in the Gorge Waterway, and cutthroat trout in the Colquitz River and Craigflower Creek watersheds.”

Portage Inlet Initiative

“PICI is a logical continuation of the stewardship approach our fishing club has taken since 2014 in volunteering to improve water quality and recreational opportunities through the Elk/Beaver Lake Initiative located in the headwaters of the Colquitz River,” adds Mick Collins, Victoria Golden Rods and Reels Fishing Club.

“With PICI we expanded the geographical scope to two entire watersheds in a three- step systematic process. First, raise seed money through an alliance of like- minded angling groups. Secondly, create a ‘consortium’ of non-profit, corporate and small business organizations to plan a comprehensive science- based program and secure grants

“Thirdly, work with all levels of government towards a clear goal. In this case habitat protection and restoration for an iconic, but often neglected, species of concern, native Coastal Cutthroat Trout (more aptly termed Cutthroat Salmon Oncorhynchus clarkii clarkii).

“Cutthroat were the ‘hook’ and the FFSBC Native Trout Stewardship Initiative (NTSI) was the catalyst to build on the work of others to preserve two important runs of urban salmonids for future generations.”

Ron Ptolemy and Heather Wright doing flow measurements at an electrofished site in Colquitz River (photo credit: Haig-Brown Fly Fishing Association volunteer)

Collaborative Projects undertaken with Non-Government Partners

“Peninsula Streams took the lead in restoring a section of Craigflower with us. We removed a large log jam, cabled in salvaged large woody debris to protect eroding banks and create fish habitat, renovated a riffle, added a spawning platform, and removed a large patch of blackberry,” Heather Wright continues.

“We went back to the site later in the year with June Pretzer, a plant specialist, along with a team of volunteers and removed any remaining blackberry, put in native plants, shrubs, and trees, and live staked the bank to prevent further erosion. In addition, we assisted Esquimalt Anglers with the removal of three migration barriers on Craigflower.

“Dorothy Chambers of the Salmon in the City Project runs the fish counting fence on Colquitz and has provided the Colquitz with a strong voice! We teamed up to remove a couple of migration barriers on the lower Colquitz. As we went, we removed any garbage we found along the way adding up to several large piles. Dorothy called the District of Saanich and they came out just a day later to remove the piles, pull out more garbage from the river and haul it all away.

“We have also been working closely with Sara Stallard of Fish-Kissing Weasels Environmental who has helped us conduct benthic macro invertebrate surveys on both watersheds, minnow trap along the Colquitz mainstem and has worked on some of our reports.

Resuscitating an urban stream in the heart of Greater Victoria 

“In 2019 we did another stream clean up and barrier removal in collaboration with Saanich Park’s staff. They were also instrumental in the success of an instream and riparian restoration effort in Copley Park, led by Peninsula Streams in 2019.”

Ian Bruce after successfully removing a vegetation blockage on the Colquitz River (photo Credit: Brian Koval, Peninsula Streams)

Collaborative Projects undertaken with Government Partners

“Saanich created an educational viewing platform at the fish fence on the Colquitz and installed three aluminum salmon information signs there, provided by Sean Wong from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI).

“The same signs were supplied to us and we reached out to the Town of View Royal who will be installing them at a newly renovated playground near Craigflower Creek. We produced a salmonid information sign of our own and the Township of Esquimalt installed it on the outside of the Gorge Waterway Nature House (which we co-manage with the Gorge Waterway Action Society).

“Capital Regional District staff loaned us equipment for benthic macro invertebrate and water quality surveys, have participated in meetings with us to share information and have reviewed some of our reports. Our connections with Provincial staff have helped shed light on these two overlooked watersheds and future collaboration is in the works. We are looking forward to feedback from our government and non-government partners on a forthcoming Action Plan for Colqutiz River and Craigflower Creek!”

Partnerships, Partnerships, Partnerships!

“So, as the reader can judge from the foregoing, partnerships have been essential to all we have accomplished through PICI and will continue to be as we progress into the future. Each partnership we have has brought something to the table, be it money, expertise or that one connection we were missing to get the job done. The moral of this article is: don’t be afraid of partnering with others to achieve your goals! ”

Dorothy Chambers, Salmon in the City Project, teaching kids from an elementary school about salmon (photo credit: Heather Wright)