The South Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition has been hard at work in Sooke in its efforts to increase the numbers of chinook salmon in the waters off Vancouver Island.
The initiative will see 500,000 salmon smolts introduced to the ocean. (Smolt is the name given to the fish at the intermediate point in the salmon life cycle. It’s when they adapt to salt water and go out to sea.)
The fish are trucked down from the Nitinat hatchery near Port Alberni and moved down a 13-centimetre pipe from the transport truck to a holding pen at the Sooke Harbour Resort and Marina.
“By putting them into the water in this way we give them a chance to acclimatize to the sea water before they’re released,” said Glen Varney of the anglers coalition.
“We’ll hold them in the pens for 15 to 20 days and then do a night release to the wild.”
Varney said by releasing the salmon in this way their chances of survival are increased.
“Everything feeds on these fish, but by releasing them in this way they avoid the predation that happens in the wild when birds and mammals take them at the mouth of the rivers as they make their way to the ocean,” he said.
Varney said the work of the anglers coalition has been hurt by what he described as the extreme limitations put on sport fishermen by recent Department of Fishery regulations that restrict sport fishing until August.
“I talk to a lot of fishermen and they are so disheartened. It’s becoming much harder to get them to volunteer to do this sort of work when DFO just keeps hitting them over and over again,” Varney said.
It’s a sentiment shared by Dan Kukat, the owner of Spring Tide Whale Watching & Eco Tours and the vice-president of the Pacific Whale Watching Association.
“The draconian measures of the federal government will do nothing to further the objective of long term sustainability of the southern resident killer whales,” said Kukat, referring to the sport fishing restrictions in place this year.
“It’s these volunteers, the fishermen, who are helping to restore the salmon stocks that are the food source for the whales. Of the $140 million spent by the federal government to help the killer whales, they have yet to put a single fish in the water.”
The same, said Kukat, can’t be said of the environmental groups who advocate the cessation of the salmon sport fishery.
“You could take every boat out of the water and the killer whales would still be in decline. It’s these volunteers who are making a difference.”
A statement from Misty MacDuffee, the wild salmon program director for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, listed hatchery salmon releases as detrimental to wild salmon stocks, citing a 2012 study on chinook survival rates.
These concerns were largely dismissed by Varney who said that the studies tend to focus on large production hatcheries.
“Those studies are dealing with large scale hatcheries. When you’re dealing with hands-on volunteer hatcheries and programs like ours, those concerns aren’t even valid,” Varney said
“The bottom line is that we’re putting fish into the water and helping to increase the stocks and help the resident killer whales. How many fish do they (environmental groups) put in the water? None.”