On the final weekend of 2018, Powell River Salmon Society (PRSS) discovered a huge loss at its Duck Lake hatchery. At some time over the weekend of December 28 to December 31, a person, or persons, tampered with valves that measure the flow of water, resulting in the death of approximately 700,000 chum salmon alevins.
“One of our staff went to Duck Lake to proceed with a routine procedure and immediately messaged me: ‘A big problem at Duck Lake,’” said PRSS manager Shane Dobler. “I went up to join him and we discovered the water had been adjusted at multiple points.”
There were nine places where the rearing and incubation locking mechanisms and standpipes were opened, affecting water levels for incubation of the chum, also called dog salmon.
Dobler said one or two opened valves would not have had an effect but if nine changes are made to the flow in a hatchery, it is over.
“Those fish wouldn't have lived long,” said Dobler. “Hours, that's it.”
According to PRSS president Ed Oldfield, the situation has created a huge obstacle and the society is working on a practical solution, including advanced security at the Duck Lake hatchery with locks, cameras and fencing.
“We can't bring those fish back. In all likelihood, it will maybe take four cycles or five cycles of that year before we're back up to decent numbers,” said Oldfield. “That's 20 to 25 years of work because they come back every four years and hopefully every four years we're able to increase the numbers.”
PRSS is a salmon enhancement program and operates three hatcheries in the Powell River area: Lang Bay, where salmon spawn, rearing at Duck Lake and the hatchery at Catalyst Paper Corporation’s Powell River mill. It operates on building a strategy for self-sustaining salmon runs at Lang Creek and Mowat Creek, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada community involvement amd resource restoration program manager Dale Desrochers.
Desrochers said the loss of 700,000 fish might seem like a lot, but in reality it is insignificant to what is generated naturally and through other types of enhancements.
“Even though it is not a significant number, it is meaningful for the people who are passionate about the work and building up that capacity for enhanced resource protection, taking care of the habitat in and around Powell River,” he added.
The Duck Lake kill will cost the salmon society for security expenses and it will need to ask for more from volunteers who already contribute 10,000 to 15,000 hours annually.
Powell River RCMP staff sergeant Rod Wiebe said police are aware of the incident and investigating.