A program aimed at increasing adult chum salmon returns on B.C.s central coast has been in operation the last 40 years in the Bella Coola Valley.
Snootli Creek Hatchery manager Haakon Hammer said the program was designed to increase adult chum returns for various stocks on the Bella Coola River to increase fishing opportunities and mitigate the effects of spawning habitat loss in the Lower Bella Coola River and its tributaries.
“We work four rivers — Thorsen Creek, Snootli Creek, Fish/Air Side Channel and Saloompt River,” Hammer said. “Each river has an egg target of 1,800,000 million eggs, release target of 1,656,000 for each river which results in an average return of 23,000 adults.”
Last weekend hatchery employees — both full-time and casual — did a weekend sort at the Saloompt River.
“They crowd the chum from one end and then sort them into two pens — one for males and one for females so they can do an egg take the next day,” Hammer explained.
He said it is pretty easy to distinguish the males and females once you get an eye for it.
“The males are much higher vertically and have different markings on the side and are a lot skinnier on the stomach.”
Females, he added, are a lot shorter vertically but wider on their bellies from holding all the eggs.
“The other key way to tell is by the formation of the kipe, which is the hook nose on the fish. The males get a much larger kipe with much more aggressive teeth and the females don’t develop much of a kipe and have much softer teeth.”
The hatchery has been very successful in providing a large, consistent commercial catch almost every year since operations began.
Because it is still the middle of the run, Hammer said he couldn’t comment on how healthy the return is shaping up just yet.
The first small chum eggtake was done in 1978 just on Snootli Creek and was hitting full targets on the four chum rivers by 1980.
“With the chum we also perform an assessment; 100,000 fry from the Snootli Creek chum stock are adipose fin-clipped every year and escapement assessed to provide contribution and exploitation estimates for this stock. This exploitation rate is used to estimate exploitation rates of other chum stocks.”
Chum is the first and largest operation of the year, he added.
Other projects they will be working on are small eggtakes — 60,000 eggtarget — on the Saloompt chinook and Nustatsum chinook along with a large 2,000,000 eggtarget on the Atarko River chinook.
Born and raised in Bella Coola, Hammer became the hatchery’s manager in July of this year after working there for about a decade.
“My ancestors were some of the first Norwegians coming into town in the late 1800s,” he said, noting many of the employees at the hatchery are also from Bella Coola.
The Snootli Hatchery is open to the public Mondays to Fridays 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
While the hatchery is currently undergoing a major five-year $20.4 million renovation to modernize its infrastructure and improve its operations, the site will continue to be accessible to visitors during this period.
The hatchery is located 12 kilometres east of Bella Coola at the head of the North Bentinck. Head east of Bella Coola on Highway 20 and watch for signs.
Guided tours are provided depending on the number of staff available. Please call ahead for additional tour information and tours for large groups.
For the safety of the public, no self-guided tours are permitted.
There are currently no public facilities at the site.