Thornton Creek Hatchery manager Dave Hurwitz contracted these university students last summer to help with research and education. (Westerly File Photo)

Thornton Creek Hatchery manager Dave Hurwitz contracted these university students last summer to help with research and education. (Westerly File Photo)

Ucluelet’s Thornton Creek Hatchery asks for needed support

“Chinook in Clayoquot Sound are the most under-performing stocks of Chinook salmon in B.C.”

Dave Hurwitz, manager of the Thornton Creek Enhancement Society, received support from Ucluelet’s mayor and council for a funding application sent off to the Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF) that would assist Thornton Creek with the repair and resurfacing of two raceways.

During the Feb. 12 regular meeting, Hurwitz addressed mayor and council with his request.

“The hatchery was built originally in 1975. We’ve got aging infrastructure. We’ve done a lot to maintain it. Right now, I’m faced with refinishing the raceways, the two big concrete ponds that hold the majority of the Chinook and some of the Chum that are released and it is just shy of $70,000.”

Hurwitz’s personal request for support from mayor and council was accompanied by a letter: Thornton Creek is now in its 29th year of operating under a funding freeze from the Federal Government and subsequently relies on grants to expand their scope of work, notes the letter.

The cost to refinish the raceways is approximately half of the nonprofits’ annual budget.

“We’re doing really well with what we have, but with big capital infrastructure jobs we need to find external funding,” said Hurwitz.

The main purpose of the Thornton Creek Enhancement Society (also called Thornton Creek Hatchery) is to enhance runs of Chinook, Coho, and Chum salmon in the Ucluelet area. Thornton Creek also partners with local schools by providing Chum fry from eggs that students can raise and release into local streams.

Hurwitz said grant writing and fundraising has become an integral part of his job as hatchery manager.

“As of April 1, DFO has now changed the funding agreements for hatcheries like ours from a contract that we apply for every three years to a contribution agreement that we apply for every three years. So fundraising now is a ‘has to be’,” explained Hurwitz.

Mayor Noël responded.

“It magnifies probably everyone’s dissatisfaction with that department of fisheries how they are just not funding you. Of course we are going to support. Anytime you need a letter, we will grant that,” said Noël.

Councillor Marilyn McEwan posed a question regarding the Tofino Hatchery.

“I had heard anecdotally that the Tofino Hatchery had the lowest return of Chinook ever this past year. I just wondered if you could shed some light on that,” she asked Hurwitz.

Hurwitz, who swims the rivers and does the fish counts for DFO, confirmed that the West Coast is facing depressing numbers.

“Chinook in Clayoquot Sound are the most under-performing stocks of Chinook salmon in British Columbia,” he said, adding that Chum stocks are also down coast wide.

“To give you an idea, Nitinat, a big major facility that has been enhancing the runs for years and gets around 200,000, they got around 30,000 back,” said Hurwitz. “Kennedy Lake last year zero Sockeye. First ever zero recording of Sockeye for a run that was once the biggest Sockeye run on the Island.”

READ: Spring fishery closures mulled for south coast (Feb. 22, 2019)

READ: West Coast urging DFO to consult more before shutting down sports fishery (Nov. 8, 2018)

Mayor Noël made a motion to add a line item on Ucluelet’s small craft harbour fees to support the Thornton Creek Enhancement Society. The motion was unanimously passed, and CAO Mark Boysen said the new line item could generate about $1,000 a month for the Hatchery.

The Thornton Creek Hatchery, located across the harbour from Ucluelet, offers by-donation guided hatchery tours of the fall salmon runs and hosts annual family favourite community events like the Rubber Fish Race and Adopt a Baby Salmon Day.

“I have a secret hope that the orca issue will help foster some interest in salmon enhancement and habitat restoration,” said Hurwitz.

READ MORE: Thornton Hatchery hosts Adopt a Baby Salmon Day

READ MORE: Tofino’s Ocean Outfitters donates $200K to salmon restoration efforts

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