Alberni Valley Enhancement Association volunteer Joe Micelli does some welding work in a fry pen structure at Port Alberni's waterfront.

Big project for small fry

A multi-partner project at Port Alberni’s waterfront aims to bring more prized chinook salmon back to the Valley.

A multi-partner project at Port Alberni’s waterfront aims to bring more prized chinook salmon back to the Valley.

Approximately 15 volunteers from the organizations comprising the Barkley Sound Working Group started building 20-foot by 20-foot chinook fry net pens at the former Alberni Plywood site. Once completed, the pen will be placed on the Canal Beach pier, which had been scheduled to be moved.

“It’s a pilot test. We’ll feed them for two or three weeks before releasing them,” said group member Bob Cole.

In May, the group plans to fill the pen with 10,000 fry from Robertson Creek Fish Hatchery, then they will be released into the Alberni Inlet in June, Cole said.

Approximately four per cent, or 400 fish, are expected to return in four years.

The group hopes to eventually release 100,000 fry, with 4,000 return, he added.

If the project is successful, the group hopes to grow out the project and place pens at other sites including Shoemaker Bay, Scout Camp, and China Creek Marina.

“Id like to see our numbers go up to 100,000 to 300,000,” Cole said.

The goal of the project is to increase the chinook fry survival rate in the Inlet. “Robertson Creek used to produce 10 million (fry) now it’s down to six million,” Cole said. “We have to get that survival rate up.”

The project is underwritten with Ultimate Fishing Town funds and from a special use fund created by fishermen.

One of those projects was a shared beach seine, the fish from which were sold and with the proceeds going towards the project, Hupacasath Chief Councillor Steve Tatoosh said.

“We’ve been wanting to do this kind of thing for some time and this was an opportunity to do that,” Tatoosh said.

Chinook fishing has been a part of Tatoosh’s life for as long as he can remember, and times are changing, he said. “I’ve seen fewer fish coming back, we all have. I know ourselves and Tseshaht have beeBig project for small fryn thinking about what we can do,” he said.

The project  isn’t unique, Cole said. There have been similar initiatives at Harbour Quay, and on the Conuma River, he added.

The working group is made up of West Coast Aquatic,  the Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations, the Alberni Valley Enhancement Association, commercial and sport. fishermen.

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