Volunteers from West Coast Aquatic spent Saturday morning releasing 6,000 chinook salmon fry into the Alberni Inlet from a pen at Centennlal Pier.
The pen had been in place behind Swept Away Inn for two weeks, and West Coast Aquatic stewardship association executive director Sheena Falconer said a buildup of algae on the net forced them to release the fry a couple of weeks early.
“We have a brushing regime…that is normally enough to keep it off,” Falconer said.
“It was just a different year this year.”
The Centennial Pier net pen is the second for West Coast Aquatic: they have another one at Underwood Cove, west of China Creek Marina, a 40-foot-by-80-foot pen holding 200,000 fry that will be released in a couple of weeks.
This is the first year a net pen has been set up at Underwood Cove; in the past couple of years it has been set up in the water at the end of Somass Mill. However, the Port Alberni Port Authority is building a boardwalk and wharf that will eventually house a fuel dock in that area, so the net pen had to move.
“We had to move because of the work being done at Somass Mill,” Falconer said. “Bell Pole and Island Timberlands allowed us to use their space” at Underwood Cove.
The chinook fry are from Robertson Creek Fish Hatchery. Falconer said West Coast Aquatic is expecting a return this year from its first net pen release from four years ago.
“We’re expecting to see some preliminary results this year,” she said.
Approximately 40,000 fish from each batch are tagged with coded wire looped in their noses, so WCA will be able to track fish from their net pens.
Falconer predicted this project will continue for at least a decade, so they can track two full four-year cycles.
“The goal is to increase chinook returns to the community because they are a great fishery for sportfishing and commercial fishing,” she said.
West Coast Aquatic is also launching a habitat restoration project for the Somass watershed, kickstarted with a $90,000 grant from RBC. Details will be released during WCA’s grand opening of the aquarium and stewardship centre at Harbour Quay on Saturday, June 4 between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Admission to the aquarium will be free in honour of Oceans Day, and there will be activities for kids as well.