As with the other areas we will cover in this series, there are a great number of organizations in the Comox Valley and surrounding areas that are making great strides in efforts to protect and enhance our salmon stocks.
The larger, government-funded operations work closely with the smaller volunteer operations to offer them advice, equipment, and knowledge to help them to be successful. In some cases, they even help supply manpower, as with Project Watershed in Courtenay, which has an open invite to help with any local community events supporting the cause.
As an individual or family, the local community organizations listed below are the best way to make an impact in your neighbourhood.
Depending on your available time and means, there are so many different ways that we can help our local groups. And with there are being so many, I can pretty much guarantee there is a volunteer group very close to you looking for help. Join, donate, participate!
Puntledge River Hatchery
The Comox Valley is home to the Puntledge River Hatchery, one of two systems on the island that are home to summer Chinook. These early arrivals enter the river system from May to August where they remain until the spawning season later starting in October.
The hatchery is run by six full and seven part time staff, and release an impressive number of fish into what is one of my favourite local fishing rivers on the Island:
- 700,000 coho fry, released into the upper watershed including Comox Lake as part of the Coho Colonization Program
- 2.7 million chum fry
- 1.8 million fall Chinook smolts & varying numbers of summer Chinook smolts
And a new exciting program launched June of 2018: The hatchery will be releasing 100,000 Coho smolt into the Puntledge River. The goal of the program is to increase survival rates by releasing larger smolt rather than less developed fry into the system.
The Hatchery is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily and hosts an open house each October.
Volunteer Salmon Enhancement Programs
Oyster River Enhancement Society
Since 1983, the Oyster River Enhancement Society has been working to restore what was essentially a “dead river” by raising and releasing pink, coho, chum, and Chinook salmon into their local waters.
“Our long-term plans include a new natural spawning channel that is approximately 1,000 meters long. A lot of details need to be worked out first, but it’s a dream of ours.”
– Ron Gammie, President, Oyster River Enhancement Society
Today they have more than 350 individual and corporate volunteers and depend solely on community donations and their volunteers to run the program. They are actively looking for more volunteers and offer several volunteer events throughout the year.
The society runs its operation completely independent of any electricity, depending on all-natural flow to maintain their operation and now sees more than 42,000 salmon returning to the system annually. They also put a huge focus on habitat restoration.
Most recently, they have increased their incubation production significantly with the addition of a new rearing building as well as adding two new traps that allow them to count every fish returning into the hatchery in the fall.
In addition to the hatchery program, they also have a number of programs on top of the hatchery program, including classroom programs where students raise salmon and eventually release them with the help of key volunteers and a high school program where they assist with the fry release each season. They also organize volunteer events including a coho fin clipping days and fry release events.
Little River Enhancement Society
Founded by four of local sport fishermen in 1980, the Little River Enhancement Society is a group of approximately 50 volunteers.
“Experience shows that hatchery fish don’t survive as well as stream-raised fish. We are working on habitat for natural rearing so that we can have a higher percentage of stream raised fish.”
– Edgar Smith, Little River Enhancement Society
The Little River was once a relatively dismal system, and is now seeing abundant numbers of coho, pink, and chum salmon, as well as cutthroat returning to the river and recently even wild steelhead entering the system. In fact, it is now the most successful and productive stream on eastern Vancouver Island based on square meters.
Twenty years ago, the group changed their strategy in an attempt to increase the number of stream-raised fish returning to the system. This has been a huge factor in their success.
They began focusing on habitat restoration, including the creation of weirs that are used to mimic beaver dam habitat and help to control water levels and increase salmon habitat. And it worked. They actively work on spawning channels and rearing channels in addition to their hatchery facilities.
Today, this enhanced freshwater habitat is proving very productive and they are seeing more fish returning to the river than at any time from the 1950s to the 1970s. Their work is far from over, and have noticed that over the past decade that they are facing a trend of lower ocean survival rates affecting these returns.
Courtenay & District Fish and Game Protective Association
The Courtenay & District Fish and Game also have a Conservation Committee that is active in enhancement. Located at the edge of Comox Lake, they have been working alongside the Puntledge River Hatchery on several programs.
Of particular interest, the Association is in the planning process of launching a cold water coho hatchery on their property. Once the Comox Valley Regional District completes a new pumphouse nearby, the new hatchery will have access to over 3,000 liters per minute of cold water from the depths of Comox Lake. The build should be complete in 2021. The hatchery will raise coho destined to restock the Trent River and will also provide a location for the Puntledge Hatchery to bring coho fry to the cold water in the summer when river water temperatures become too high.
Streamkeeper & Watershed Stewardship Organizations
The Comox Valley’s habitat restoration societies offer a number of volunteer events over the course of the year. They can often be found on the community calendar page of www.tidechange.org. Here are a few of those groups:
Allison Bligh is Island Fisherman Magazine’s Enhancement & Hatchery Reporter.
For hatchery news and information, please contact directly by email here.