This year’s coho hatchery project in Houston BC was a pilot to see if there was enough support for a more permanent hatchery/nature centre operation. It has been a huge success and a few people have expressed interest in doing it again next year in a more permanent capacity. With that in mind we are on the search for volunteers to build a watershed stewardship team that will help organize and coordinate such a big project into the future.
We need between 6-10 committed volunteers who have a heart for conservation and community in Houston, BC. We are looking for volunteers who:
Have a vision for watershed stewardship and caring for creation in the Upper Bulkley River Watershed/ Houston BC area.
Over 50 people gathered at the property of St. Anthony’s Catholic church on the shores of Buck creek in our small town of Houston, BC on the eve of May 18th. Why? To release the final batch of Coho fry from A Rocha’s pilot Coho hatchery. Amidst laughter, wooden fish painting, insect discovery, refreshments and, of course, lots of fish stories participants got a cupful of water and a Coho salmon fry and dumped it down the fish slide into a safe spot in the river.
The past 7 months have been an amazing journey. There’s been a very steep learning curve in fish culturing techniques and in the end we were privileged to release over 4,400 healthy Coho fry into the Upper Bulkley River watershed.
I think the most satisfying part though, were the friendships that were made and the relational hurdles that were navigated. It was not always easy. There were several hair raising, prayer raising moments where we had the opportunity to forgive and show grace and practice patience towards one another. But those moments were also the moments where true community was expressed, the good, the bad and sometimes, yes, the ugly.
I am grateful for the intense learning and growth that occurred in my life and I can only hope the others felt the same way. Steeped in much prayer and a few tears it produces not only a successful conservation initiative but also a successful act of community in true A Rocha fashion, were truth was told in a way that cared for both parties. And the support both financially and volunteer wise from the wider community of Houston that came together to make our watershed a better place was beautiful to behold and a privilege to be a part of.
So as I drift off to sleep dreaming of all our little Coho friends in the wild where they belong I say a quick prayer of gratitude and leave you with this visual journey of “How to hatch a fish”:
And for those of you who like numbers. Here’s the project statistically speaking:
20 adults, 3 seniors and 7 children raised
$14,000 cash and
$35,000 worth of in-kind contributions from
18 local business and individuals and
2 granting agencies (Pacific Salmon Foundation and Public Involvement Program with DFO) and put in
Join A Rocha’s Upper Bulkley River Streamkeepers to help release the last of the coho fry from our pilot fish hatchery into Buck Creek. Learn about our watershed and what the UBR Streamkeepers have been doing over the past few years, what we hope to do in the future, and how you can join in the fun.
Games and crafts for the kids and refreshments for everyone!
How many plants and animals can we find in Houston in 24 hours?
Last year we identified 160 species. Let’s see if we can beat that this year.
Join local experts and citizen scientists to count as many plant and animal species in the Houston area as we can in a 24 hour period. We will go rain or shine so dress for the weather. Bring a snack, your eagle eyes and curiosity (and binoculars, cameras, and nature id books if you have them.)
Ipad/ipod/cell phone are welcome if you download the free iNaturalist app and create a profile before you come!
Friday, May 13
6:00 pm Old Pines Nature Trail – Family friendly nature trail. Meet at the trail head at 6 pm. Directions
Saturday, May 14
7:00 am Early Bird Search. Join local birders for an intermediate-expert bird watching adventure. Meet @ A&W to car pool.
11:0 am Duck Pond Dipping – Family friendly aquatic insect search and nature exploration. Meet @ boardwalk.
1:00 pm Buck Creek/UBR River Nature search. Family friendly nature exploration. Meet @ the ball field on 3rd & Copeland.
Help the Upper Bulkley Streamkeepers release coho salmon fry from our Pilot Fish Hatchery and send them back to the wild where they belong.
Games, activities and fun for all ages.
UPDATE APRIL 11 – as with anything in the natural world life is unpredictable. We are keeping an eye on the river but right now it looks like we might have to postpone our public release day until the water goes down and clears a little. We are sending some of the little guys to the fish health vet today (lucky fishies get a ride in an airplane all the way to nanaimo 😉 to see how they are doing. After that we’ll have a better idea where and when we can release them. I will try to give you as much heads up as I can but please keep an eye on this page for the announcement or join our facebook group at www.facebook.com/UBRStreamkeepers
We will meet at the Houston Leisure Facility (the pool) at 3:00 and walk over to Buck Creek where we will learn what Salmon are doing under the snow at this time of year. Then a short walk to Jaimie Baxter park for some games and finally a stroll to the hatchery to take a peek at the fish and for some hot chocolate and bonfire to warm up.
This is a great activity for the whole family. For more information contact Cindy Verbeek, Project Coordinator at cindy.verbeek(at)arocha.ca.
A Quick Peek at the Pilot Coho Hatchery in Houston
Dec 11 2015
Eggs – eyed eggs – alevin – fry – smolts – adults – spawners. That’s the mantra students all over this province repeat as they learn their salmon life cycle in biology class. Those lucky enough to participate in the Stream to Sea program even get to watch them develop, at least from eggs to fry, before they are released in the spring. But how many regular folk like you and me get to see the miracle of growth that happens 30 cm underneath the rocks in the salmon bearing streams all winter long? The answer in Houston is – anyone who volunteers at A Rocha’s small pilot coho hatchery.
On October 1st just over 6,000 coho eggs were fertilized and put into a recirculating system completed by talented volunteers just days before (see And Then There Were Fish to read that story). Since then, volunteers have been visiting the hatchery at least once per day to check to make sure the water is still running and the water temperature is appropriate for developing coho (between 3-5C).
Newly fertilized eggs (left) vs eyed eggs (right)
During incubation time we had to keep operations pretty quiet. Even the location of the hatchery was a bit of a secret. At this stage the eggs are so delicate that even a bump of the system is enough to kill them and we wanted to give them their best chance. As the accumulated thermal units (ATU’s) built we watched in anticipation for it to reach the magic number. At 230-250 ATU coho eggs are eyed and much more robust. Finally, in the middle November it happened, and a few of us took an anxious peek. We were excited to see that fertilization had been successful and our “babies” (as we fondly call them) had little black specks that tell us the eyes are developing. Phew. Critical stage over, working stage begins.
The next step was to “shock” the eggs by pouring them from 18 inches above into a bucket of water where the belly flop on the surface kills any sick or dying eggs but will not harm the healthy eggs. The next day A Rocha and DFO staff as well as 5 keen volunteers spent three hours in sub-zero weather (-10 C to be exact) picking out the dead eggs, counting and measuring the live eggs and making careful notes on our datasheets. The final tally = 5,776 live eggs returned into two trays to continue their development to fry.
On one hand this sounds like a lot especially when you think that you have all these little lives in your hands. But on the other hand, it represents the number of eggs from only two female coho, and when you think that some hatcheries have their production into the millions this is just a drop in the bucket. So why do we do it?
The main focus of this hatchery is to engage the community. The Upper Bulkley River is a small watershed considered to be one of the most endangered watershed’s in the larger Skeena system. There is no fishing allowed which makes it even more “remote” because there are no fisherman eyes on the river. This makes it hard to know what’s going on unless you are one of the landowners in this area privileged to steward land along the river.
The Bulkley A Rocha project is a way of providing opportunities for the community to be involved in the watershed and to learn more about (and, hopefully, ultimately protect) where they live. The hatchery is one aspect of the larger picture which also includes environmental education and watershed monitoring (including Streamkeepers work and bird studies to date). The goal is to grow Citizen Scientists who have the skills to monitor the ecosystem, provide valuable data to decision makers and contribute to hands-on conservation activities to improve the health of the Upper Bulkley River watershed.
Projects like these do not run on their own. It is only because of community that A Rocha’s work exists. We have a fabulous community of volunteers, long time financial and prayer supporters of A Rocha’s work in Northern BC and local businesses who took a chance on this hair brained pilot project idea. And to you all we want to say a great big THANK YOU!
At the risk of forgetting someone we would specifically like to thank the following for their financial and inkind contributions to the building of the hatchery so far. Thank you thank you thank you.
Egg picking and workbee at the Coho Hatchery (Houston, BC)
Nov 19 2015
December 2, 2015
9:00 am – 12 pm (includes campfire and hotdog roast!)
This is our first chance to see the eggs since they’ve been fertilized. They will no longer be at risk if they are bumped or handled so now is the time to get the eggs that were not fertilized out so they don’t contaminate the live eggs.
This is also the time to give the system a good cleaning and tweek anything that needs tweeking with the hardware.
The more hands the faster we can get this done. Join us for this important step in running a hatchery. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE TRAINED AS A VOLUNTEER TO PARTICIPATE SO TELL YOUR FRIENDS.
Join A Rocha’s Northern BC – Bulkley Project Coordinator, Cindy Verbeek for a visual journey through life in Northern BC. Find out what A Rocha is doing in the small town of Houston to engage the community in stewardship activities in one of the Skeena River Watershed’s most endangered tributaries. Learn what it takes to build a mini-fish hatchery, what climate change is doing to rivers in the north and how one church grows healthy veggies for the community.
For the past year a small group of A Rocha volunteers who go by the name Upper Bulkley River Streamkeepers has been talking, dreaming and taking small steps towards a small pilot fish hatchery. The idea was to raise up to 10,000 coho fry and engage the community in conservation stewardship in the Upper Bulkley River Watershed. And so it began. Fundraising, planning, gathering materials and support, two steps forward, one step back. It felt like it was never going to get off the ground (just ask my journal).
Then, just as time became short and the threat of coho coming into the Upper Bulkley river and us missing our window became real, a mini pilot coho hatchery started to take shape. With the bulk of the finances provided by a Pacific Salmon Foundation grant, businesses and individuals in the community kicked in matching finances and volunteer labour and the project moved forward. First a small shed, then countless hours by fantastic volunteers and the plumbing and wiring and the “guts” of a hatchery were put together. Time to test the waters – literally. Yup, pH, alkalinity, DO, CO2, all good. Water was flowing through the system properly and the temperature was beginning to drop to the required 3 degrees Celsius.
It was time to check if there were Coho salmon in the river system. Since the Upper (aka Little) Bulkley River is at the very far reaches of the Skeena watershed the Coho run usually arrives between October 1st and the 15th; so we were a bit early but it was worth a try. Eleven people ages 6-60 donned their hip waders and prepared for a day out on the river. With a ban on fishing in the Upper Bulkley interactions with fish are minimal so an opportunity to find fish and learn about them is really exciting. We spent two hours split into 2 groups and were able to cover approximately 4 km of river and we found…nothing! Well, no Coho at least. We did map a half a dozen Chinook/Sockeye redds and saw 7 sockeye and a handful of whitefish (see our Streamkeepers report for details) but no coho. Rats! Oh well, that gave us time to put the finishing touches on the hatchery.
And then, it happened. Three days later six coho were spotted spawning downstream of a beaverdam that we monitor. Some quick texts and phone calls to round up a work crew and we were out on the river with a seine net capturing Coho for broodstock. The plan was to capture several males and females and keep them in a holding tank until they were ripe and then take eggs to put in the hatchery. But the fish we caught were so ready we decided to do egg takes right then and there. So, on the beach of the Upper Bulkley River, in the middle of the small town of Houston, BC 6,000 eggs from two females and milt from 2 males were collected and our little hatchery was born.
It’s been an exciting and challenging journey. I am so thankful for all the wonderful people who have provided supplies, finances and labour towards this project and am very aware that it is God moving in this place and the hearts of this community that has allowed this to happen.
Now we settle into the daily routine of checking the hatchery, taking water quality measurements and waiting. Our training session is October 19th at 7:00 pm at the Houston Public Library. Anyone wanting to volunteer in the hatchery MUST be trained so set aside this time if you are interested and able or contact Cindy to find another time that works for you.
And for those who are far away wondering what you can do to help – pray, donate and send a word of encouragement. We are still in need of about $14,800 to see this project through to release of the fry in May or June of 2016. To watch things as they progress join our facebook group and/or to find out more contact Cindy Verbeek.
If you’re in the lower mainland in early November be sure to catch News From the North at Brooksdale Environmental Centre to hear the latest updates on this project from Cindy.