A new hope for Sarita Chinook, thanks to salmon farmers

April 7, 2011 09:31

Salmon farmers and enhancement groups are hoping their partnership can help wild salmon make a comeback in the Sarita River, reports www.megafishnet.com with reference to Mainstream Canada.

Mainstream Canada has partnered with three other salmon farming companies to donate USD11,000 to a project they hope will have positive results for Sarita River Chinook salmon.

Mainstream donated USD5,000 to the Alberni Valley Enhancement Society, in partnership with the Omega Pacific Hatchery, to tag 50,000 Chinook which will be released into the river at one year old this afternoon, April 6. Similarly, salmon farmers grow salmon in freshwater hatchery tanks for one year before transferring them to ocean pens.

The Omega Pacific Chinook have been tagged with coded wire tags and have had their adipose fins clipped which will help identify them later if caught by sport fishers. Their numbers will help determine whether or not older Chinooks released into the river system have a higher survival rate when they come back to spawn.

Carol Schmitt, president of Omega Pacific hatchery, has 32 years of hands-on experience raising Chinook for enhancement projects and the aquaculture industry. She is leading the project and is convinced releasing this type of fish will improve returns to the river.

"Freshwater rearing greatly influences the age dynamics and overall ocean survival of Chinook salmon," she said, explaining that "stream type Chinook, a Chinook that naturally spends one or more years in freshwater before embarking on the ocean migration, has a much greater chance for success and return."

Salmon farmers are backing her idea.

"The life histories of Chinook are varied and complex, and we hope that lending our expertise as salmon farmers and considering all options for enhancement will help wild Chinook stocks in the Sarita flourish," said James Costello, Mainstream Canada's sustainability officer.

Hatchery Chinook are usually released shortly after hatching and don't spend as much time in fresh water before going to sea. Currently, survival rates for Chinook on the Sarita are very low. Current survival rates for released west coast Chinooks are less than 1 per cent. Last year about 500 fish returned to the Sarita River, which is 0.1 per cent of what is annually released.

"We want to see strong, healthy wild salmon runs so we support projects in the communities where we operate to help make sure the salmon which feed First Nations, support commercial and recreational fisheries and are important food source for wild animals will be there for future generations," said Laurie Jensen, Mainstream Canada's communications and corporate sustainability manager.

Marine Harvest Canada, Creative Salmon and Grieg Seafood have also each contributed USD2,000 to the project.

"We hope that our contribution can help the salmon in the Sarita make a comeback," said Tim Rundle, general manager of Creative Salmon in Tofino. "We hope we see these fish come back strong in the near future."

Ian Roberts, communications manager for Marine Harvest, agreed.

"We are always active in local salmon enhancement projects, and many of our staff come from a fish enhancement background, so it makes sense for us to support each other," he added.

Stewart Hawthorn, general manager of Grieg Seafood, said he was pleased to be able to contribute to the project.

"British Columbians are passionate about our native salmon, and our employees at Grieg Seafood BC are no different," he said. "We hope this helps make a difference for the Sarita."

The fish were tagged in early March by three experienced taggers who worked tirelessly for a week despite cold and snowy conditions.

Other enhancement costs on the Sarita River are covered by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Huu-ay-aht First Nations, who have committed resources for 25 years to rebuilding the Sarita River Chinook. And for this project, Omega Pacific Hatchery paid for all costs to rear the 50,000 Chinook for 17 months.

"We are extremely grateful for all the contributions from the farming industry which paid for the cost of tagging and transport of fish back to the river for release," Schmitt said.

Tagged Sarita Chinook are being released April 6, with a small riverside celebration for their release and to bid them farewell for a safe ocean journey.

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