You can only get to Omega Pacific Hatchery on Great Central Lake by boat or float plane and the property’s location at the bottom of a mountain range takes full advantage of a freshwater stream coming down it.
The cold freshwater is gravity fed through the hatchery for maximum benefit.
But the success there is mostly due to the vision of owner Carol Schmitt who is now in her 40th year raising Chinook salmon.
Last week she and her partner released 100,000 chinook smolts into the lake at their hatchery.
“Now the fish just have to swim the 14 kilometres to Roberston Creek,” she said, pointing in a southerly direction from the dock.
She would normally barge them down the lake and truck them to a nearby river to be released but due to COVID-19, she was allowed to release them right at the hatchery instead.
It’s the final release in a four year trial that Schmitt has part of with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. However, Schmitt’s chinook returns, no matter where she releases them have been higher than government hatcheries for more than four years.
“We are a cold water hatchery which is able to grow a natural yearling which is an S1, which spends an additional year in freshwater and they’ve been proven to have a greater marine survival to adults,” said Schmitt. “It’s a very effective way to rebuild low-level stocks because you’ll end up with on average ten times greater [than other hatcheries].”
“Her fish go out so amazingly healthy-looking fish. They’re strong and healthy and they’re immune system is developed and we get amazing results,” said Bob Cole of West Coast Aquatic Stewardship Association which has worked with Omega Pacific for years.
He says the evidence is there that Schmitt is doing it right.
“DFO and hatcheries warm up their water and feed their fish and make them big and release them in the first six months where she keeps hers 18 months, they grow very slowly,” said Cole. “They aren’t that much bigger than the S-0’s that are released but they’re healthy, strong and their immune system is developed and they survive.”
Carol is now hoping to be invited to do work on Henderson Lake southwest of Port Alberni, which is seeing only a handful of Chinook salmon returning each year.