MOSSOM HATCHERY: Raising salmon not just about the creek
Approximately 3,000 coho smolts got special limousine service from Mossom Creek hatchery to Port Moody inlet this past month. Babied in an a broth of salt and creek water, and ferried from the Ioco Boat Club to sea pens further out in the harbour, the silvery fish were gently deposited into pens where they will fatten up before embarking on their journey out to sea.
With a keen homing instinct and some luck, they will return, closing a circle that began 18 months earlier when Mossom Creek Hatchery volunteers and members of the Burrard Inlet Marine Enhancement Society (BIMES) plucked them as blood-red eggs from brood stock and put them in trays for safe keeping and maturation.
At the wheel of the Medusa 2 for the smolts' trip was George Assaf, who carefully steered a skiff from dock to dock surrounded by a crew of teenagers, senior citizens, BIMES members, a few moms and dads, and a dog.
This annual trek is just one of the duties of BIMES volunteers and, Ruth Foster said, one of the most important in the nearly 40-year-effort to rebuild salmon stocks in Mossom Creek.
These coho are the healthy remains of a fire that burned down the hatchery in December and destroyed thousands of coho, chum and pink salmon eggs.
Those smolts now represent the hopes and dreams of a rebuilt hatchery.
"This is the most delicate stage," Foster said of the slim silver adolescents that have been raised from the egg stage by volunteers and students in Centennial secondary school's Salmon Project Club.
The fish are transitioning to a more mature stage after the months of care and, at the time of the visit to the inlet, were ready to move from a fresh water environment to the salty sea. Like anxious parents letting their teens out for the first time, the volunteers hovered around the fish and the tanks, and took turns offering to feed them over the next several days until the smolts were ready to be released.
It's a job the volunteers relish — assisting with the cycle of life — and the work has paid off. In 2013, for example, 130 coho returned to Mossom out of 6,000 smolts that were released.
"For me personally, I enjoy helping to stabilize the salmon population," said Geric Coutts, a Grade 12 student from Port Moody's Heritage Woods secondary school.
"The hatchery is very important to the community," agreed Warren Dupasquier, also a graduating Heritage Woods student, who has worked at the hatchery since 2013.
Now that the facility is in the rebuilding phase — and significant funds are needed to finish off the work — volunteers, donations and support are needed more than ever, said Foster, who is helping to organize a fundraiser slated for Sunday, July 13 (see sidebar).
"This is a critical time for the salmon but it's also a critical time for us," Foster said.
In addition to its hatchery work, BIMES advocates for the health of the entire inlet and conducts research, and its members are involved in partnerships with other organizations to monitor marine wildlife such as sea lions, herring spawn, seals and other creatures of the ocean. It also has intervenor status at National Energy Board hearings for the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion.
Here, on the calm waters of Port Moody inlet under a cloudless sky, however, much of that work is invisible. There are just clear waters, a healthy collection of coho smolts swimming in their sea pens, and a group of hard-working volunteers — and a dog enjoying a day in the sun.