New program to boost Orca numbers launched

New program to boost Orca numbers launched

WATCH: A group of volunteers is set to release thousands of Chinook salmon smolts into Sooke Basin in an effort to boost Orca numbers. Calvin To reports.

A group of volunteers led by the South Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition is set to release 225,000 Chinook salmon smolts into Sooke Basin in an effort to boost Orca numbers.

The project is called the Chinook Enhancement Initiative and is two years in the making.

Organizers say it will provide vital food for a population of whales that is now endangered.

“It’s a matter of life and death and also a matter of the level of health. So without more food on the table, there will be fewer killer whales. There will be more killer whales if we put more food on the table,” says Dan Kukat, past president of the Pacific Whale Watch Association.

It is being touted as the largest project of its kind on Vancouver Island.

The fish were captured in the Nitinat River, brought to a hatchery operated by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and then to a custom-made holding facility in Sooke Basin.

Half the fish have been coded with wire tags that will allow them to be traced with the help of sport fisherman.

The release is planned to occur in about a week and a half, at night, when there are fewer predators at large.

There has, however, been opposition to the plan. Critics have expressed concerns over the introduction of new fish into an existing ecosystem, creating a competition for resources that will ultimately harm wild populations.

But organizers say that because the Sooke River does not have any native Chinook Salmon (they were wiped out decades ago by fishing and industry), this project won’t harm the ecosystem. 

Instead, proponents say it will provide additional benefits.

“You look at the dollars. You look at any given marina, and you look at all the sport fishing boats, and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in boats in the area and that just works into the local economy,” says Glenn Varney from the South Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition.

The group is now planning to grow the program to a million smolts by year three as well as possibly adding more locations on the island. 

Calvin ToCalvin To

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