Chum salmon have a friend in the Tofino Hatchery.
The hatchery recently released over 40,000 Chum fry into four streams on Meares Island in an effort to bring the species back from extinction.
The hatchery traditionally focuses its efforts on Coho and Chinook, but with local chum returns dropping to single digits, the Tofino Salmon Enhancement Society set out to revitalize the species armed with funding from Creative Salmon and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
“Each of these systems, whether they be large or small, have their own personality, they each have their own carrying capacity,” hatchery manager Doug Palfrey told the Westerly News. “We’ve been monitoring these streams on Meares Island for quite a number of years and every year you see less and less. You’re continually hoping you’re going to see a slight increase, but that is just not the case here.”
The Chum enhancement plan was launched in October with the hatchery collecting about 45,000 eggs at Tranquil Creek and taking them to the hatchery to be fertilized and incubated. When they hatched and were ready to be fed, the baby salmon were placed into troughs until they reached about two grams.
“At that point, they were taken back in two boat trips to these extinct streams on Meares Island,” Palfrey said. “We’re hoping for about a 1 per cent return to those systems…That’s just nature. A lot of eggs are laid and a lot of mortalities take place in the systems. Well over 100 predators are going to be after these fish.”
He said it will take three to four years to determine whether the project was successful and added that while returns are diminishing, hope is not following suit.
“We’re still moving forward and we’re still managing to see returns from our enhancement efforts, but you never know until you start seeing the adults returning in the fall,” he said.
One key reason for Palfrey’s optimism is the enthusiasm shown by two young hatchery volunteers Ethan Stere and Phoenix Greig who he said have proven their passion towards local salmon stocks for the past three years and took the lead on the chum enhancement project.
“This is their project…They did all the egg takes, they did all the fertilizing, they did all the dead egg picks, they did all the anaesthetizing every 10 days of those stocks and they adjusted the feed rates,” Palfrey said. “It’s fantastic to see this enthusiasm and the commitment really, it’s not just something they did for one or two days, they bought into the whole program. They did everything right from the start to the finish.”
The chum release wrapped up the hatchery’s season and Palfrey said the next few months will be spent maintaining equipment before the team heads back to the rivers in the fall.
READ MORE: Tofino Hatchery receives $10K donation