The Upper Bulkley River Streamkeepers have an elaborate setup in a Tweedie Avenue backyard that hopes to raise 6,000 coho salmon.
With the help of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), a group of volunteers have been involved in the community stewardship hatchery funded and supported by various sponsors around the community.
“It’s a very small pilot project,” said project coordinator Cindy Verbeek. “This project there’s two things that come out of it. One is, of course, that there’s more fish. There’s more salmon in the river system.”
Verbeek said that doing a hatchery yields a 90 per cent survival rate over the 50 per cent that salmon have in the wild. To date, they have 5,776 live eggs and a survival rate of 89.2 per cent.
“The other thing is that, it’s a way of getting the community engaged. So, getting the community learning about salmon, being able to interact with salmon closely,” said Verbeek. “And it’s an avenue for school groups, environmental education, tourism, all those kind of things.
A volunteer comes daily to monitor the hatchery system, which includes a cooler to keep the water at an optimal temperature for growing salmon, a UV light that sterilizes the water and a water aeration system.
Every week, volunteers come to pick dead eggs because fungus could grow on them. They do this by examining eggs by eye to see if the embryo is still intact, and picking out ones that are not.
“We have about six or seven core volunteers right now. We have about 40 people that are hovering around in the background on our Facebook page. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans have been training us, so teaching us, at every step,” said Verbeek.
The Streamkeepers estimate that it takes about 420 accumulated temperature units before the eggs become fry. ATU is measured by adding up the temperature of the water every day, to which Verbeek added that they are currently at 290 ATU.
“We’re expecting possibly that they’ll hatch out of their eggs in the new year,” said Verbeek.
They will feed off their yolk sacs which provides them nutrients. Once the sac is depleted, they will then be considered fry. The volunteers will then release them into the river a few weeks after that point.
The DFO helps groups like the Streamkeepers through providing professional oversight, seed funding and paperwork assistance, under the salmon enhancement program.
“This group, they are now doing [salmon] enhancement,” said DFO community advisor Brenda Donas. “Since the mid-90s, there have been maybe two years of good returns while we were running a strategic stock enhancement program specifically for Upper Bulkley coho.
“Since after about 2005, the coho has been low again.”
She added that Hazelton has a similar program for about 20 years.
The 6,000 coho that the Streamkeepers hope to raise would not significantly help the low rate of salmon returns, which have fallen to about half the expected returns due to a warm Pacific ocean this year.
“It’s really not a lot, but what it does is it creates a great learning experience for people and it’s an eyeopener for people,” said Donas. “And education goes a long way, because then you have more people trying to take care of a river system that really needs some help right now.”
The Upper Bulkley River Streamkeepers is a project of A Rocha, a Christian group dedicated to the environment.