Over the holidays, Cindy Verbeek became a mother to 5,588 babies.
Verbeek and the Upper Bulkley River Streamkeepers have seen 5,588 coho salmon hatch from their eggs in their hatchery and they are working hard on preparing for the next phase by transferring them from the incubation trays to a cylindrical tub.
“Feb. 15 is when we want to have the system set up, but we’re expecting somewhere around Feb. 21 or so is when they’re going to do what we call ‘swim-up,’ so they used up their egg sac and they need to start feeding,” the project coordinator said.
Fry need space for swimming, unlike alevins — baby fish which have a nutritional sac — which stay mostly still.
“They’re a lot more active, they need to have access to food, and you just need a different system to be able to do that,” she said. “They can’t live in those trays anymore because they are not stationary anymore, they’re actual fish now.”
Preliminary discussion at a Jan. 12 meeting indicated that the tub will have filtration facilities and water sterilizing systems, and the Streamkeepers are currently looking for someone to fabricate it.
Verbeek admits that the salmon evolved much quicker than they anticipated.
“The biggest scheduling shock was how quickly these little guys decided to hatch,” she said. “They were kind of following what we expected for the eyed eggs, when you can see the eyes in the eggs, that was a bit earlier than we thought.”
“But then all of a sudden at Christmas time, we ended up with just over 5,000 little alevin and that was really exciting for us, there were a bunch of us that looked every day to see whether they hatched or not.”
In order to get to this point, the hatchery has seen volunteers contribute 300 hours of labour. The community and organizations have also contributed $4,300 in funding and $35,000 of in-kind labour. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Pacific Salmon Foundation have also helped with funds.
The Streamkeepers hope to release the fry into Buck Creek in conjunction with Earth Day on April 22.
This year, the hatchery has to move because the location where it currently sits in was provided on a temporary basis, but the Streamkeepers have bigger plans.
“The next step is trying to find a location,” she said. “We would love to have a bigger interpretive centre that also houses the hatchery, and so part of the building would be the business part of the actually hatchery and raising the fish, and the other part would be environmental education, displays for tourists, that kind of thing.”
Verbeek now needs to find funding partners and dig through the paperwork.
Verbeek is also hosting the Salmon in the Snow during WinterFest.
“We’re going to start at the pool,” she said. “We’ll take a look at Buck Creek, we’ll go across the bridge and talk about what salmon are doing right now, under the snow. We’ll stop in Jaime Baxter Park and we’ll have some games there that teaches kids and adults about salmon, and we’re going to walk over to the fish hatchery and we’re going to let participants have a peek.”