Pallant hatchery expecting great returns this year
By Heidi Bevington-Despite technical challenges and funding cuts, the Pallant Creek fish hatchery has released millions of salmon fry into the ocean, and, if all goes well, the hatchery will start to see larger numbers of chum and coho salmon returning to spawn this autumn.
“If mother nature does its part, the hatchery will start to see more returns in coming years,” says Haida Fisheries program manager Pat Fairweather.
Five years ago, Department of Fisheries and Oceans was planning to close the hatchery, when the Haida Fisheries program signed an agreement to operate it, says Mr. Fairweather. DFO still owns the hatchery, pays between $300,000 to $350,000 or 50 per cent of its funding, and provides technical support like hatchery biologists, but the day to day operation of the hatchery is managed by Haida Fisheries.
DFO used to spend between $600,000 and $700,000 to run the hatchery. Haida Fisheries has reduced operating costs to about $550,000, says Mr. Fairweather. As well as money from DFO, $100,000 comes from the Haida Tribal Society’s Aboriginal Fishing Strategy Fund. For three years, Fisheries Renewal BC paid $100,000 but when the Liberal government cut the program’s budget, the hatchery negotiated an innovative cost recovery program that allows the hatchery to catch and sell 35 per cent of the Cumshewa chum fishery to raise money for operating costs.
DFO wanted to close the hatchery because the cost/benefit ratio was too low. Haida Fisheries hired a consultant involved in private non-profit hatcheries in Alaska, Bruce Bachen, to work with Russ Jones, the technical director of Haida Fisheries Program, to see if the ratio could be improved. Basically, the hatchery had to increase the number of fry released into the ocean. The goal was to double production of chum salmon from 15 million to 30 million and increase coho production from about 375,000 to about 900,000, says Mr. Fairweather.
“This year is a key year because it will be the first year of returns with four year old salmon,” says Mr. Fairweather. “Time will tell if returns will increase but we do know we have increased the output.” So far the biggest egg takes were in 1999 when they collected 25 million chum eggs and in 2000 they collected 27.7 million.
The hatchery increased production while maintaining costs by adopting innovations developed in Alaskan fish hatcheries. With $300,000 from Gwaii Trust, the hatchery bought special “NOPAD” boxes-incubators designed in Alaska that use floor space and water efficiently to double production.
Once the hatchery increased the number of salmon eggs it could harvest and incubate, it had to find somewhere to put all the fish, says Mr. Fairweather. The chum fry used to spend a month in the freshwater raceways before going to salt water net pens in Deer Cove, but now they are transferred after only a day.
Fisheries Renewal BC gave the program $130,000 to pay for freshwater net pens so coho fry could be raised in Mosquito Lake, increasing the number of coho raised annually from about 300,000 to about 900,000.
Just as the hatchery solved the problem of how to increase the number of salmon raised, it faced a financial challenge when it lost Fisheries Renewal BC funding. To make up for the lost income, the hatchery negotiated a cost recovery strategy-the first of its kind in Canada – with the North Coast Advisory Board.
The hatchery is now allocated 35 per cent of the total allowable chum catch for Cumshewa Inlet. The hatchery tenders out the jobs of catching and selling the hatchery’s allocated catch with the goal of getting the highest possible return for the fish. The target last year was to earn $125,000 but due to low fish prices and a smaller than expected return of chum salmon to Cumshewa, the hatchery only earned $40,000, says Mr. Fairweather.
“The idea here is that we are attempting to make sure there is a lot of fish returns, so there’s more for everyone. We’re trying to increase the returns so that the funding needs of the hatchery and the needs of the fishing fleet can both be satisfied,” says Mr. Fairweather.
This year, the hatchery completes the Haida Fisheries Program’s five-year plan to increase production. The next five-year plan is to maintain production and-hopefully-begin to see salmon returns gradually increase, says Mr. Fairweather.