Hatchery fears low salmon survival

·3 min read

Two years ago qathet had a poor year for salmon, but Tla’amin salmon hatchery manager, Lee George is worried 2021 will be even worse.

Since 1977, the Tla’amin Salmon Hatchery has helped produce and release over 70 million fish, including Chum, Coho, Chinook, and Pink throughout Okeover, Theodosia, as well as Tla’amin waters. It’s a project that depends on fish-friendly weather.

“The low water due to the heatwave will have a major impact on the stream habitat,” said Lee. “The warmer water will create health problems for the overwintering Coho in the system as the warmer water will dilute the oxygen content in the stream. It will also dry up off-channel habitat for fingerlings. That will create mortality when the water in side channels disappears.”

Lee explains that he has been working at the hatchery for 31 years along with about six others who work throughout the whole year.

“When the hatchery has no salmon, rebuilding, repairs, meetings, in-stream repairs, and assessments on vegetation/habitats are being done. Meaning it’s report time,” Lee says.

When the salmon are in spawn season, the workers monitor the species, taking and fertilizing the fish eggs so that they can be cared for throughout winter. In the spring, the eggs hatch and the workers then feed and care for the fry until they can be released and tagged.

What were the best and worst years for salmon numbers?

“The best numbers were about 10 years ago, there were about 60 thousand fish overflowing the stream! The worst year I’d say was in 2019, the Chum had the lowest numbers we had ever seen,” Lee notes.

The Tla’amin Salmon Hatchery has been donating fish to Klahoose Nation, so that in a few years they will be able to catch salmon in their own streams, with an end goal of being able to build a smokehouse for its community, like the one in Tla’amin.

“Something really cool is the DNA testing done on the salmon, with it we are able to find out exactly which hatchery they came from, when they were born, and where they have been!” says Lee.

Currently there are three summer students from the Tla’amin community working at the hatchery through a program the Nation is running, called Nviats. They will learn about what the hatchery worker job is like throughout the summer.

Lee says that currently they are trying to obtain a Fish Hatchery fund so that they can expand and improve the hatchery to be able to care for more fish. The Nation is also putting out a job posting for a new food fish manager, as currently there isn’t one.

What animal is the most annoying to deal with through spawn season?

“Sea lions and seals I would say are the most annoying. It is because they wait at the bottom of the stream, one will chase the fish out of the river into the ocean and the others will be waiting, keeping a lot of salmon out of the river! I would also say fishermen, because they end up catching the fish that are slower at making it to the river,” he replies.

“We could use a shot of rain right about now. I was out on the boat yesterday and noticed that I didn’t see any snow left in the mountains out behind our little city. We are presently on water restrictions in our community. So a little rain will go a long ways for mother nature.

Abby Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, qathet Living

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