Every day for the past two weeks – and for at least a few more to come – volunteers at the Little Campbell Hatchery have been getting a workout, scooping and counting salmon that are making their instinct-driven sojourn up the river.
The bicep-building effort has been an annual tradition since 1982, and at the height of the run “there’ll be hundreds a day” through the 1284 184 St. hatchery’s fish trap, said Bob Donnelly, president of the hatchery and Semiahmoo Fish & Game Club.
“Two years ago, one day we had 1,500. When they’re running fast, we have to be here all day long.”
Friday morning, more than 100 salmon were logged, the majority of them coho.
Scooped by net from the steel trap, each fish is identified by species, then checked for clipped fins – to determine if they’re wild or hatchery-raised – before being released to continue up the river.
It’s an effort that’s repeated every day from about 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. throughout the run.
Donnelly said the resulting statistics have become an important source of information for the fishery, helping track the populations and determine survival rates, including of hatchery fish themselves.
With concerns about the future of salmon in the river running particularly high – as the City of Surrey considers a proposal for a truck park eyed for a site less than three kilometres away – Donnelly is hopeful public awareness of the ongoing efforts will keep the river’s health at the forefront of the discussion. It has been a priority for volunteers for 59 years.
Typically, the hatchery raises about 100,000 coho every year, along with thousands more cutthroat, steelhead and chinook.
Returns of the latter were “way down” this year, Donnelly noted. Just 184 chinook were counted last month, compared to 324 last year, and it’s believed the preceding dry spell is to blame.
“This year, the river was so low, they were struggling,” Donnelly said. “We’ve never seen the river that low.”
Donnelly emphasized that efforts at the hatchery are not intended to replace the wild salmon population, but augment it.
Wednesday, volunteers will collect fertilized coho eggs for distribution to schools as part of the Salmon in the Classroom program. Students will raise the fish and bring the fry for release into the river next spring.
Members of the public interested in seeing the spawning salmon firsthand are welcome to drop by the 30-acre property during daylight hours.