For the past year a small group of A Rocha volunteers who go by the name Upper Bulkley River Streamkeepers has been talking, dreaming and taking small steps towards a small pilot fish hatchery. The idea was to raise up to 10,000 coho fry and engage the community in conservation stewardship in the Upper Bulkley River Watershed. And so it began. Fundraising, planning, gathering materials and support, two steps forward, one step back. It felt like it was never going to get off the ground (just ask my journal).
Then, just as time became short and the threat of coho coming into the Upper Bulkley river and us missing our window became real, a mini pilot coho hatchery started to take shape. With the bulk of the finances provided by a Pacific Salmon Foundation grant, businesses and individuals in the community kicked in matching finances and volunteer labour and the project moved forward. First a small shed, then countless hours by fantastic volunteers and the plumbing and wiring and the “guts” of a hatchery were put together. Time to test the waters – literally. Yup, pH, alkalinity, DO, CO2, all good. Water was flowing through the system properly and the temperature was beginning to drop to the required 3 degrees Celsius.
It was time to check if there were Coho salmon in the river system. Since the Upper (aka Little) Bulkley River is at the very far reaches of the Skeena watershed the Coho run usually arrives between October 1st and the 15th; so we were a bit early but it was worth a try. Eleven people ages 6-60 donned their hip waders and prepared for a day out on the river. With a ban on fishing in the Upper Bulkley interactions with fish are minimal so an opportunity to find fish and learn about them is really exciting. We spent two hours split into 2 groups and were able to cover approximately 4 km of river and we found…nothing! Well, no Coho at least. We did map a half a dozen Chinook/Sockeye redds and saw 7 sockeye and a handful of whitefish (see our Streamkeepers report for details) but no coho. Rats! Oh well, that gave us time to put the finishing touches on the hatchery.
And then, it happened. Three days later six coho were spotted spawning downstream of a beaverdam that we monitor. Some quick texts and phone calls to round up a work crew and we were out on the river with a seine net capturing Coho for broodstock. The plan was to capture several males and females and keep them in a holding tank until they were ripe and then take eggs to put in the hatchery. But the fish we caught were so ready we decided to do egg takes right then and there. So, on the beach of the Upper Bulkley River, in the middle of the small town of Houston, BC 6,000 eggs from two females and milt from 2 males were collected and our little hatchery was born.
It’s been an exciting and challenging journey. I am so thankful for all the wonderful people who have provided supplies, finances and labour towards this project and am very aware that it is God moving in this place and the hearts of this community that has allowed this to happen.
Now we settle into the daily routine of checking the hatchery, taking water quality measurements and waiting. Our training session is October 19th at 7:00 pm at the Houston Public Library. Anyone wanting to volunteer in the hatchery MUST be trained so set aside this time if you are interested and able or contact Cindy to find another time that works for you.
And for those who are far away wondering what you can do to help – pray, donate and send a word of encouragement. We are still in need of about $14,800 to see this project through to release of the fry in May or June of 2016. To watch things as they progress join our facebook group and/or to find out more contact Cindy Verbeek.
If you’re in the lower mainland in early November be sure to catch News From the North at Brooksdale Environmental Centre to hear the latest updates on this project from Cindy.