Salmon hatchery moving to Sooke River after creek dries up
A small army of volunteers are hard at work building a new fish hatchery on the Sooke River, just below the Sooke Potholes.
The Jack Brooks Fish Hatchery has been operating for the last 40 years on Rocky Creek, which is about 20 minutes north of the new location.
"The bottom line is that because of climate change the creek has run dry,” said Mike Hicks, Regional Director of Juan de Fuca for the Capital Regional District. "There is a huge lack of water to run the hatchery."
Due to the low water levels, fry have to be released earlier than normal. Hicks said they're too small and they seeing poor mortality rates.
Salmon returns to the river five years later have been equally as poor.
With no financial commitment from the government, a decision was made by the group to start fundraising and go ahead with building a facility at the new location.
The group got a commitment from the CRD to supply it with enough water from the Sooke Lake Reservoir to run the new facility.
Last year 500,000 fry were raised, but the hatchery only saw 700 returning adult fish. After moving operations to the new facility, the group is hoping for a half per cent increase to 2,500 returning adults.
Hicks hopes he will be able to secure a piece of the provincial and federal governments' announced $143-million earmarked to go toward conservation projects to help bolster west coast chinook salmon.
So far the group has raised around $200,000 of the needed $900,000 to build the hatchery.
Trades people have donated time and materials are being sold to them at cost or in some cases for free. Money continues to roll in from corporate and private donors.
Hicks called it a grassroots effort that is mammoth in scale.
"We're plugging along and we’re building a hatchery. I think it’s the only one like this in Canada,” he said.
The goal is to have the project completed for the second week of October. The hatchery will bring its batch of 500,000 fry to begin their five-year life cycle on the river in the new location.
By imprinting fish to the new location, it’s hoped that salmon returns will increase come spawning season.
“All this is about is helping the chinook salmon, and if we help the chinook salmon, that helps the recreational fisherman, the First Nation fishery and the southern resident killer whales," said Hicks.