Each year, in the fall, a group of dedicated volunteers, called the Salmon Support team (SST) collect brood stock (salmon eggs and milt) that are then fertilized at our local facility. These eggs are then incubated, and reared in the SCWA hatchery until they are large enough to be released back into their natal stream. SCWA volunteers work with both threatened and endangered Chinook Salmon stocks. The hatchery maintains multiple regional relationships through these projects.
SCWA has operated a volunteer run hatchery since 1987, and since the recent upgrades in 2020, have become the most technologically advanced volunteer hatchery in the province.
The SCWA hatchery programs contain multi-faceted salmon hatchery and education program containing highly impactful conservation efforts with regional community engagement.
Each year the SST and SCWA volunteers camp near remote spawning grounds across the region in the fall to collect brood stock (eggs and milt). The volunteers catch salmon and extract eggs and milt from spawning adult specimens. During this extraction, measurements, DNA and genetic samples are also taken. When the collection target has been reached, volunteers transport the brood stock safely in cooling units to the hatchery, where they fertilize the eggs using a process called matrix spawning, whereby milt from multiple males fertilize the eggs from a single female. Matrix spawning increases genetic diversity of at-risk populations which would normally see low levels of diversity.
Once fertilized, the eggs incubate in a customized room at the hatchery where commercial chillers and UV water sterilizers ensure optimal conditions for healthy salmon development. The developing eggs are monitored around the clock with remote monitoring equipment to ensure that temperature and water quality stay within a safe zone. If any parameters are breached, an alarm automatically notifies the Salmon Support Team, who are on call to immediately respond. These dedicated volunteers ensure the safety of the fragile eggs.
As the eggs hatch, they are visually monitored twice daily (in addition to the round the clock remote monitoring equipment), to ensure continuous healthy development. Once the eyed egg and alevin stages are achieved, the newly developed fry are then transferred from the incubation stacks into large troughs in a process called ponding. Following ponding, the fry are fed three times a day by volunteers. Troughs are cleaned daily. Once per week, volunteers weigh 40,000 – 80,000 salmon fry to monitor growth and development.
In early spring, SST volunteers load the fry into transport tanks and haul them back to where their brood stock was gathered, releasing the fry into their natal stream to ensure they imprint and return to that stream. This almost entirely volunteer-run program has been operating annually since 2017 under strict standards set by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, achieving success rates as high as 95%. The Annual SCWA Community Salmon Fry Release occurs each spring at the SCWA Hatchery at 1384 River Road. See Community Salmon Fry Release.
Chinook salmon are an integral part of the ecosystem of the Upper Fraser watershed, a migrating anadromous species which is a vital component of the food chain, playing an important role in carrying nutrients between rivers and oceans and fertilizing British Columbia’s Forest ecosystems. Chinook salmon are also a critical biosensor; salmon health is a key indicator of general environmental health.
Chinook salmon and First Nations in the region have enjoyed thousands of years of intertwined cultural history. This relationship provides an important component of British Columbia’s cultural, physical, economical, and spiritual environment.
The Chinook Salmon Stock Rebuilding program is just one of several programs delivered by SCWA to conserve ecosystems, provide public education, mitigate human-caused environmental degradation, and increase conservation education efforts throughout north central British Columbia.
Without this program and its dedicated volunteers, it is unlikely that these runs of Chinook salmon would be able to regenerate its population to sustainable levels.
Current streams (2023)
Nechako River (COSEWIC designated threatened)
Swift Creek (COSEWIC designated endangered) 2019-2023