One of the island’s most successful community salmon hatcheries, the Les Dowding Memorial Volunteer Salmon Hatchery is now in it’s 35th year.
The Tahsis Salmon Enhancement Society was established in 1982 when only 12 chinook salmon returned to the Tahsis River that year.
Growth has been slow, but steady ever since.
Friday was moving day for 160,000 young chinook salmon at the Tahsis salmon hatchery.
They’ve been growing at the hatchery since they were harvested as eggs last fall.
“They’ll be in this sea pen for approximately three weeks and then we open the net and let them go. And they’ll head right up to the gulf of Alaska” said Tahsis Salmon Enhancement Society President Frank Collins.
Several volunteers as well as Enhancement Technicians from the nearby DFO Conuma Hatchery gathered Thursday to help move the fish.
The salmon are moved in a tank on a truck to a boat launch, where they’re then transferred to another tank on a boat and moved out to a sea pen in the Tahsis Inlet where the fish will become acclimatized to the salt water for three to four weeks.
“Survival rate is about 4% and we had 160,000 chinook (released four years ago) and the return that came back last year was 1300” said Collins.
Excellent numbers by any hatchery standard, government or community.
The fish are going into the Leiner River but it all started in 1982 when just 12 salmon came back to the Tahsis River.
Last year 257 chinook came back.
“Pretty enjoyable when you see all those fish and they’re nice healthy fish and they’re going in the sea pen and they’ll be in there for a month or so and then we release them and then four years down the road we see what we get back” commented Bill Dwulit, an original member of the Tahsis Enhancement Society.
“The big difference is putting them in the sea pens for a few weeks before release helping them acclimatize to the salt water and that’s given us higher returns overall than just straight river release” said Lyndy Vroom, an Enhancement Technician at the nearby Conuma Hatchery run by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Since 1982 there have been roughly 6 million salmon fry released in Tahsis and for the volunteers it’s a labour of love and a commitment to declining salmon stocks.
“I don’t know how to say it but I tell you our group is so proud of what we’re doing” added Collins.
And next week they’ll be preparing 70,000 more chinook for release into the Tahsis River.