Volunteers with the Alberni Valley Enhancement Society released thousands of coho fry into Kitsuksis Creek on April 24. Release day is part of the annual cycle of growth for the salmonids at the Jake Leyenaar Salmon Hatchery on the McLean Mill site.
Tens of thousands of fry released at the end of April were hatched over the winter. The tiny alevins were then transferred into small tanks inside the hatchery, then to larger tanks outside the hatchery as they grew into fry.
Ordinarily the coho fry are released by elementary school students through the Gently Down the Stream program; students tour the hatchery then get hands-on instruction before releasing the fry into Kitsuksis Creek near the footbridge connecting the hatchery site with McLean Mill National Historic Site. Thanks to COVID-19 restrictions, volunteers cannot have students visit the site this year, so members of the AVEA released the fry.
The program started back when Cherry Creek Elementary School was still operating—it is now the site of the First Baptist Church and home of the Port Alberni Farmers Market. The kids from nearby Cherry Creek Elementary were the first to be involved and they took a proprietary interest in “their” fish and “their” creek.
Soon, it became part of a popular school district-wide program, now called Gently Down the Stream. The hatchery opened in 1996 and includes a classroom/ meeting room, named for late AVEA member Dave Chitty. The hatchery was named in honour of the late Jake Leyenaar, one of the original stalwarts of the AVEA.
Fry were carried to several sites upstream from the hatchery, in tributaries of the creek beyond the McLean Mill barn.
At least 10,000 fry were released into the creek off the Batty Road bridge. Others were delivered via transport tank and ATV through the McLean Mill site and up the main channel to Mulcaster Slough. Other fry were delivered downstream of the mill and one delivery was made to Rogers Creek.
Volunteers opened the fish counter at the footbridge connecting the mill site to the hatchery side of Kitsuksis Creek, took the water temperature and netted some smolts for examination.
Coho typically spend a year in their home creek before heading out into the Pacific Ocean. Smolts that grew from eggs laid upstream from the hatchery in 2019 have started moving through the Kitsuksis system toward the Alberni Harbour.
The survival rate of hatchery salmon making it to adulthood is 96 for every 4,000 eggs. In nature, that number is 14 adults per 4,000 eggs.