Getting Schooled in Stock Enhancement – A Privately Funded Salmon Hatchery and the Lessons Learned

Legacy Part 09 – The Broughton & Gilford Coho Hatchment Project

Link to photo gallery

By Jason Murphy. First Published 11/02/2018 

Sitting at Billy’s dining room table, the conversation had turned to the subject of salmon hatcheries.

Allegedly, the government provides open-pen salmon farms in BC (an industry with $440m in sales), between $4m and $5m per year in return for dead fish.

Considering salmon hatcheries are potentially part of the solution to dwindling wild salmon stocks, I was surprised to hear how little investment they require. 

It turns out that in his tireless efforts to keep the community - where he was born and has lived all his life - alive, he helped found a privately funded salmon hatchery in the area a few years ago.

Challenges of Remote Locations

After some early successes, the hatchery is no longer in operation. The location wasn’t perfect – the local stream turned out to be inadequate for their needs and the workaround was expensive – fry had to be helicoptered to other areas.

But he told me that in the end, difficulty in finding staff willing to work at the hatchery became the biggest issue.

I found this difficult to believe. How hard could it be to recruit a handful of people to this admittedly remote, but beautiful, place to do valuable conservation work? But Billy insisted it was true – another sign of not just how difficult it is to keep the salmon population alive but also the communities that used to depend upon them.

Defunct, But Dead in the Water?

The hatchery is overgrown with trees and brush now, and when I visited their winter branches made a net-like pattern out of which the outline of the building emerges.

Billy explained the process to me as I took pictures – salmon eggs were hatched in custom-made perforated plastic substrates and then incubated to a certain size before being released into the rivers to which they eventually return to spawn.

Most of the equipment is still there, to my eyes just waiting for someone to walk in and restart the whole thing.

Future of Hatchery Funding

So how much investment did it take to get this whole thing started? I was able to piece together a ballpark figure based upon what Billy told me after some coaxing – about $150,000. That is about 4% of what our government gives to the open-pen farms in exchange for dead fish every year. Or put another way, the money spent on dead fish could instead be spent on 25 or so hatcheries – more than doubling the current number – (or fewer combined with other helpful stuff like habitat reclamation projects.)

Something to think about.