Interior hatchery resurrected to incubate chinook fry caught at Big Bar Slide

Gord Sterritt with the Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance enumerating chinook in the Upper Fraser River region of Tete Jeune Cache with Mt. Robson in the background. (Shane Kalyn photo, property of the Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance)
A fish wheel is being used to catch early run chinook salmon in the Fraser River that are unable to make it past the Big Bar Slide for use in a conservation enhancement program this summer. (Gord Sterritt photo)
The hatchery at Likely is being rejuvenated to raise chinook salmon. (Richard Holmes photo)
Chinook salmon are the focus of a project using adults retrieved from the Big Bar Slide that cannot get through on their own due to water levels in the Fraser River. (Guy Scharf photo) Chinook salmon are the focus of a project using adults retrieved from the Big Bar Slide that cannot get through on their own due to water levels in the Fraser River. (Guy Scharf photo)
Chinook salmon spawning in the Fraser River near Tete Jeune Cache. ((Shane Kalyn photo, property of the Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance) Chinook salmon spawning in the Fraser River near Tete Jeune Cache. ((Shane Kalyn photo, property of the Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance)

Early run chinook salmon unable to migrate past the Big Bar Slide on their own due to high water levels are being used to enhance dwindling stocks in tributaries of the Upper Fraser.

“It is a huge undertaking with a lot of moving parts,” said Gord Sterritt of the Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance (UFFCA).

As a member of the joint executive steering committee formed a year ago in response to the slide, Sterritt has been involved with providing overall direction and decision making on work that is ongoing.

Adult chinook salmon are being caught at the Big Bar Slide area using a fish wheel and transported above the slide to French Bar Creek where they undergo DNA sampling to try to pair them based on their natal stream of origin, he explained.

They are then being transported by truck to the Nechako White Sturgeon Conservation Centre in Vanderhoof where they will be held until they are ripe and their eggs or sperm can be collected sometime between the middle of August to the first week of September, their natural spawning period.

From there, some of the eggs and sperm will be transported to the Quesnel River Research Centre (QRRC) near Likely which was once a production hatchery for Fisheries and Oceans Canada and is presently part of the University of Northern B.C. (UNBC).

“There is some capacity to bring in eggs and incubate those eggs to fry and then from there we’ll figure out what to do — hold them or release them immediately back into the wild,” Sterritt said. “There’s a suite of different options.”

Fisheries biologist Richard Holmes, who has worked for both UNBC and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and at the hatchery in Likely beginning in 1981, is involved with rejuvenating the hatchery for the incubation project.

“I’m happy to help,” he said. “I’m still a fisheries biologist entrenched with trying to improve the dire straits the stocks are in right now, especially the salmon.”

He said more recently Fisheries and Oceans Canada has used the hatchery to raise a small amount of fish for the salmonids in the classroom program, but on a production scale it has not been used since around 2000.

Last week excess incubation framework, incubation trays and stacks were brought in from DFO’s Snootli Creek Hatchery in Bella Coola to the Likely facility and were being installed this week.

Conservation enhancement isn’t just about producing more fish, it’s about trying to save runs, Holmes said, noting the Big Bar Slide has put a lot of pressure on early migrating salmon.

Read more: ‘Almost complete loss’ of early salmon runs at Fraser River slide last year: DFO

Later on in the summer, salmon will be able to migrate on their own, when the Fraser River levels are not so high.

Holmes said about 150 adult chinook will be retrieved in the next few weeks, hopefully to enhance the Tete Jaune, Willow and Bowron River runs.

“Those are the three we are looking to enhance, but that may change as the days move forward. We may not catch enough of those so we may drop down and target another stream in the Upper Fraser that’s in jeopardy.”

There are at least 52 separate chinook stocks above the slide area, he added.

DNA sampling takes a few days and hopefully will determine who the fish are and where they are headed.

It is anticipated there will be up to 400,000 eggs collected if all goes well, with 75 to 80 per cent fry reared at another DFO facility in the Lower Mainland and the remainder at the hatchery in Likely for release later into the Upper Fraser natal streams.

Sterritt said the slide response has been a tri-government approach involving federal, provincial and First Nations that has been evolving over the year.

Initially it was a slide response.

Over the winter it moved to a mediation response and now it is about fish transport and improving access for the fish to get to the Upper Fraser, including into the Quesnel, Horsefly and Chilcotin regions.

Holmes said the entire project is in response to a request by First Nations to start critical enhancement for conservation of fisheries from stocks they are reliant on that are not coming back anymore.

Witnessing the salmon decline first-hand throughout his 40-year career has been very disappointing, he said.

“Salmon are more than a million years old. They’ve been around a long time and it’s only taken us our brief lifetime to put them in jeopardy.”

As for the project, he described it as a great collaboration between First Nations, DFO and UNBC.

“The facility in Likely was designed to enhance chinook stocks from a number of different rivers when it was first built. It’s come first circle.”

Sterritt said they aren’t only dealing with the slide, but record low returns.

“It’s been compounding. We know that chinook returns to the Fraser River, and Upper Fraser especially, are pretty much the lowest on record. The records go back at least 100 years.”

Even with the emergency enhancement, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to improve conditions, he added.

“Any fish that are returning to tributaries above the Big Bar slide are almost all listed as a species at risk,” Sterritt said.

Read more:Feds committed to protecting, restoring declining Fraser River chinook stocks: Fisheries Minister



news@wltribune.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Chinook salmon protection

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. mogul sells Naikoon properties to parks system in $1 million deal

NIHO founder Rudy Nielsen sells 320 acres to BC Parks; Ministry statement expected in ‘coming months’

B.C. premier ‘not going to be apologetic’ about closure of Haida Gwaii fishing lodges

Horgan says ‘public health takes the priority’ over business in implementation of travel restriction

Regional district proposes closure of unmonitored recycling bins, new depot for Masset

Proposed updates to Solid Waste Management Plan aim to reduce waste on Haida Gwaii, save money

Rainmakers of Haida Gwaii set to perform for Special Woodstock

20th festival will feature musicians with special needs and other bands from around the world

Boon Docs comics illustrate Haida Gwaii health staff ‘Behind the Mask’

Family doctor and cartoonist Caroline Shooner shares inspiration for new comic series

371 British Columbians battling COVID-19, health officials confirm

Thursday (Aug. 6) saw a second straight day of nearly 50 new confirmed cases

Canada vows retaliatory measures as Trump restores tariff on Canadian aluminum

The new Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement that replaced NAFTA went into force on July 1

Canada ‘profoundly concerned’ over China death sentence for citizen in drug case

Police later confiscated more than 120 kilograms of the drug from Xu Weihong’s home

Answers to 5 common questions facing families for the COVID-19 school year

COVID-19 protocols are likely to vary even more at the school board level, and even and school-to-school.

Visitors and non-residents entering closed remote B.C. First Nation’s territories

With limited resources, they say they don’t have any authority or power to enforce the closures

UBC loses appeal on Fisheries Act convictions

BC Supreme Court upholds order to pay $1.55-million fine

Masks to be mandatory on BC Transit, TransLink starting Aug. 24

Both BC Transit and TransLink made the announcement in separate press releases on Thursday

Acclaimed B.C. actor Brent Carver passes away

Carver, one of Canada’s greatest actors with a career spanning 40 years, passed away at home in Cranbrook

Most Read