Hatchery programs at risk from financial cuts
Government support hasn't increased in 18 years but costs have

By Robert Barron, Daily News
May 02, 2009

Students from Lantzville's Seaview Elementary School were wide-eyed as they toured the Nanaimo River Hatchery Friday morning.

But the future of the popular and informative school programs at the hatchery, as well as a number of its other operations, hang in the balance because the facility is struggling with financial troubles.

The hatchery, a vital component of salmonid enhancement in the Nanaimo area, receives $300,000 a year from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

That amount has not changed in 18 years and it is becoming difficult for the hatchery to operate properly because its costs are increasing.

Manager Henry Bob said the hatchery's situation would be more dire if not for the assistance it receives from the Harmac pulp mill, the hatchery's landlord, which charges a token amount of $8,000 per year for the lease on the one-acre property, which includes all the water and power the hatchery uses.

"Harmac has been very generous to us over the years and we simply couldn't continue operations without its help," Bob said.

"We've brought our financial situation up to DFO many times, but all we've been told is that we should cut production to keep our costs within budget. That would be a shame considering how important the hatchery is to the salmon populations in the Nanaimo River."

Calls to DFO were not returned by press time. The hatchery, which is run by the non-profit Nanaimo River Stewardship Society, was opened in 1979 in response to rapidly declining chinook, coho, and chum salmon stocks in the Nanaimo River and it's now one of more than a dozen operating on Vancouver Island under DFO's salmon-enhancement program.

The hatchery supports runs of chinook, coho, chum and now pink salmon as well, and releases more than one million fry each year into the Nanaimo River ecosystem.

Bob said if the hatchery significantly cut back operations, or stopped completely, he predicts salmon returns to the river would be "nowhere near" the stable levels they are now.

The DFO pays for the hatchery's spring educational programs for students in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, but the hatchery picks up the costs for the fall program. With the costs of the program running up to $3,000 per year, it could be in jeopardy as the hatchery looks to cut costs.

Harmac president Levi Sampson said the mill does what it can to help the hatchery by not raising its lease rate and continuing to supply all its water and power requirements for free.

He said Harmac's tradesmen have also repaired the hatchery's water and power lines when necessary and have installed a fish ladder to allow returning salmon easier access to the river's upper reaches.

"The hatchery is important to the community and with Harmac's new ownership model, which has many of its owners living nearby, we feel a part of it and we want it to do well," Sampson said while taking part in Friday's tour.