Salmon bonanza cheers volunteers
BEAVER COVE—Christmas came early in this remote region of North Vancouver Island. But then, it always does when the volunteers of the Kokish River Fish Hatchery kick off their annual brood stock collection of salmon.
The core group of volunteers, many of whom have been aiding salmon enhancement on the Kokish since the hatchery was established in the mid-1980s, are retired or semi-retired. But they were as giddy as children finding gifts under the tree when they hauled a mix of pinks, coho, chum and sockeye from a pool in the river and transported them to tanks at the nearby hatchery last week.
“That was good; we did a good haul,” Port McNeill’s Ed Bennett said to his mates as they tipped a pot of coffee in the hatchery office after sorting the fish by species into holding tanks. “Boy, those chums are big, eh?”
The early September collection kicks off the hatchery’s season, which will run until next spring when new smolts are released back into the stream to begin their journey to the sea and resume the cycle.
While some of coastal B.C.’s hatcheries are staffed with paid professionals, the Kokish Hatchery is one of the many smaller facilities dotting Vancouver Island entirely manned by volunteers. Most of these hatcheries were created in the early to mid-’80s, following the establishment of the Canadian Salmonid Enhancement Program by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
“Everybody’s a volunteer; nobody’s paid,” said Grant Anderson of the Marble River Hatchery, located between Port Alice and Port McNeill off Highway 30. “It makes a good comradeship. We have lots of people from different walks of life, and each of them brings their own talents.”
Last week’s fish collection on the Kokish drew nearly a dozen volunteers, who donned chest waders and strode around the pool in the river while unspooling a 100-foot seine net from an inflatable raft.
They included the grizzled regulars, like Bennett, Ken Coleman, Pete Rice, John Foster and Ken Stoner, as well as first-timer Dan Gachter, who was joined by a pair of friends visiting from the Lower Mainland.
“I’m in awe of the people who do this,” said Mace Vandenakker of White Rock, who traveled with his wife Elspeth to visit the Gachter family and tagged along to don waders and lend a hand.
“I have to take my hat off to these people.”
A pair of recent secondary school grads with an interest in wildlife biology, Michael Whitworth and Ben Jorgenson rounded out the team and provided a youthful counterpoint to the team.
In two sets of the net, this group collected more than 100 salmon — including a coho with a clipped adipose fin indicating it originated from the hatchery.
Most of the fish were transferred to a tank mounted on the back of a heavy-duty pickup, though several were left in the river to fend for themselves.
“We left a coho with seal bites, and we threw back a number of trout,” said Bennett.
The salmon will be held in tanks at the hatchery until they’re ready to spawn.
The hatchery crew will then harvest the eggs and sperm and transfer them to an incubation tank for the winter. Next spring, local schoolchildren will be invited to take part as the new smolts are released into the very pool from which their parents were taken.
“We’ll keep picking (fish) through the fall,” said Coleman, who entered the counts into a log book. “This and the egg collection will go from now until almost Christmas. We’ll be working from now through June.”