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Letter: Brilliant program boosts salmon numbers

South Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition is a not for profit society made up of volunteers

Brilliant program boosts salmon numbers

On May 29,  Charles Borg, Marina Sapozhnikov and myself were invited by the South Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition to come to Sooke and take part in releasing 330,000 baby salmon into the Sooke Harbour.
South Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition is a not for profit society made up of volunteers with the goal to increase the population of Chinook (spring) salmon on the west coast.
The release we helped with was the second this year. Altogether they have released 630,000 baby salmon this year!
This group gets the baby salmon from the Nitinat Hatchery and then holds them and feeds them in two net pens for two or three weeks to imprint the baby salmon with the water coming from the Sooke River. They then release them on an outgoing tide close to dark so they make it into the Juan de Fuca quickly to dodge predators.
This method trucks the baby salmon past the river estuaries where by far the biggest mortality happens to baby salmon. Ducks, herons, other birds, trout and seals normally take up to 60 per cent to 70 per cent of the baby salmon coming down the river.
Did you know that salmon have a small bone in their heads that is similar to a fingerprint that tells them which water system they were born to? Because these baby salmon were hatched at the Nitinat Hatchery, they need those two to three weeks to imprint on the water flowing out of the Sooke River. By the time they are released, they have fully imprinted on the waters of the Sooke River and will return to it.
In recent random checks of the salmon returning to the Sooke River, 50 per cent and more were salmon that had been released by the South Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition coming back to spawn in the Sooke River where they had been released, demonstrating the success of this project!
This system of stocking salmon was started by a partnership of fishing lodge owners and First Nations in Rivers Inlet and is enjoying a huge success for fishers and whales alike.
In talking to the people who have donated hundreds of hours of labour as well as money, they have told me that the bureaucratic hurdles to get permits has been horrendous! These permits have taken up to two years to achieve, with a lot of money and time to hire one expert after another expert to satisfy the Fisheries bureaucracy even though the system has been well planned and proven.
All the money they have raised has been through fundraising and donations. The only contribution from the government is the fish from the hatchery. Fisheries even wanted to bill them for hauling the baby salmon from Nitinat Hatchery to Sooke. The good news is that they were able to talk Fisheries into forgiving the bill.
This coalition almost went broke during the COVID lockdown rules and regulations which meant that they couldn’t even meet outside! They managed to soldier on by their fingertips and continue this valuable program!
The Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition’s goal is to get up to a million fish out of their Sooke pens and then start another release pen in Mill Bay and Cowichan Bay to bolster the local Chinook salmon fishery and get better returns to this area.
As I drove home that night I couldn’t help but think what a great common sense project this is, while at the same time thinking it is brilliant! The Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition deserves all the help it can get; be it volunteer help or with donated money.

John Money