A school of salmon fry swimming together

How the salmon and their protectors survive

qathet Living, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Powell River Salmon Society has had zero increase in funding from Ottawa in the past 40 years -despite being the one of the most measurably successful community hatcheries in BC. 

Even with rising inflation, the federal government has not made any adjustments to the funding of the Salmon Society (PRSS). 

Last June, then-Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) Bernadette Jordan announced a $647.1 million Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI). 

“This plan will guide investments and action in four key areas: conservation and stewardship, enhanced hatchery production, harvest transformation, and integrated management and collaboration,” reads the media release. 

So how much of this will the PRSS be getting? Well, it’s been almost a whole year since the PSSI funds were announced. 

Salmon Society manager Shane Dobler says that answer is still the same: none. 

DFO did not respond to qathet Living with a comment. 

“We met with our local MP, Rachel Blaney, she wrote a letter and took it back to Ottawa, didn’t really get a response, then recommended we create a petition,” says Shane. “We are waiting on results for that now.” 

Year after year the Powell River Salmon Society releases thousands of salmon into Lang Creek. 

But before those fish are released, the PRSS takes eggs from the previous years’ spawning fish, incubates those eggs at the mill site, where the eggs grow from alevin to fry. Staff and volunteers transport the fry to the Duck Lake facility where the fish grow until the spring when the PRSS releases them into Lang Creek. 

At the same time as the PRSS grows chum, chinook, and coho salmon, the society also has fundraisers, such as their winter raffle or tide guide. The Salmon Society has enhanced qathet’s salmon population back to health, and introduced a new species of salmon, chinook. The PRSS has grown about one third of all BC chinook salmon coming from community hatcheries. 

Because of these enhancement efforts put in by countless volunteers, donors, and workers, the PRSS has created and maintained one of the very few stable salmon populations left in all of British Columbia. 

The Salmon Society’s programs rely more and more on fundraising efforts as time moves forward. From buying fish food to the gas used for transporting salmon from site to site -to bigger projects such as the fish pump used to put the salmon into the trucks that take salmon from site to site. 

“We are the grassroots, and our Salmon Society is built on stewardship. Where is the announced $647.1 million PSSI for our industry going?” 

North-Island Powell River MP Rachel Blaney says that the new fisheries Minister, Joyce Murray, is still figuring out what the PSSI program will look like. “It’s not completely verified, it looks like that money is going towards building new hatcheries. But it is the right time to be having those conversations about including community hatcheries, like the PRSS, in receiving some of that funding,” says Rachel. 

“The Salmon Society is creative and has done very, very good work with the wild salmon. I want to see these funds go towards community hatcheries like PRSS. I believe this is the way to go if we want to save wild salmon.” 

Rachel says her letter was asking the Minister to review the PSSI and include current hatcheries in receiving some of the $647.1 million funds. 

“The House of Commons requires a certain format for petitions, so we worked closely with the PRSS to create this. I took the petition on Friday (April 1). It usually takes about 45 days to review before we get a response,” says Rachel. 

The PRSS’s challenge with DFO doesn’t just stop at funding. 

Shane says that DFO representatives have asked Salmon Society staff to clip the salmon they raise to identify the salmon as hatchery fish. 

Clipping is a DFO initiative to manage fish stocks, and for DFO scientists to use in reports comparing wild to hatchery salmon populations. 

However, hatchery workers have to clip every single individual fish, meaning a lot of time is spent clipping the millions of young salmon. 

“We told them we would clip our fish if they paid us to do so, because how would we do it for free? They don’t even pay for our fish food. Even at 10 cents per fish to clip? We have also invited DFO several times to come and clip our fish if that is what they want. To this day DFO hasn’t clipped the fish that they want clipped.” 

Shane says the PRSS’s prides itself on the accomplishments the team has, which is driven by the community. 

“We have had many community successes in the last 40 years, and the next one may be our most important. We will work towards positioning our organization in a self-sustaining manner. The same as we have done for our salmon returns.” 

To do this, the Salmon Society created a foundation. The Salmon Preservation Foundation (SPF) is the newest addition to the Salmon Society. 

The SPF provides the legal structure to raise funds for the society to use. “The creation of the SPF is designed to accumulate the necessary funds through fundraising and donations,” Shane says. “The primary purpose is to accumulate sufficient capital, the income stream from which would ultimately fund the annual operations of the PRSS. Self sustainability is our long term goal.”

(l yo r): PRSS volunteers Lisa Gaudreault, Laura Terry, Tom Krivanek and Ron Maintland use a seine net at the Duck Lake facility to scoop up salmon fry for their release into the creek – Photo courtesy Abby Francis

The SPF team of directors includes Rusty Kempe, David Morris, Cory Carr, and Jamie Zroback. “Our goal has always been the same: Survive. The salmon and our organization. 

“I started as a volunteer in highschool, I have been lucky enough to have worked with just about everyone who’s ever been a part of the PRSS, we want to make sure this historical community effort and achievement continues. 

“We want to keep building ambassadors for our programs to keep up the pace we’ve set for ourselves. If we continue to be very fortunate to get as much community support as we do, we’ll still be around in 50 years.”

Top image credit: These chinook were transported from the mill site to the Duck lake site where they will be released into the creek. Photo courtesy Abby Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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