For the last three decades the Oyster River Enhancement Society has virtually breathed life into a once-dying river with traditional methods of fish production and a razor-thin annual budget of $30,000 to $40,000.
To upgrade hatchery operations and expand its impact the society has hired new management and increased efforts to recruit a new generation of volunteers.
Since inception in 1983, the society has raised fish returns to near historic levels by producing more than one million salmon per year for the Oyster River. It hasn’t been smooth sailing, but the challenges of the last 28 years have made the society experts at managing change.
When the society lost its annual BC Gaming Grant, it turned to private donors for financial support. When the Bear Creek nature Park was created, the society became a key partner of the Comox Valley Regional District in providing recreational and public education opportunities.
In 2005, the society underwent expansion with a large private donation managed by the Pacific Salmon Foundation. This resulted in the creation of a new spawning channel just off the Oyster River, which is maintained by society volunteers receiving technical input from Fisheries and Oceans biologists and engineers.
Former hatchery manager Frank Petruzelka was the driving force behind many of these changes. But earlier this year, when Petruzelka decided to retire and train new hatchery manager Lyle Edmunds, the society took it as an opportunity to fine-tune operations.
One new volunteer, Sonora Morin, brought a wealth of salmon and hatchery knowledge from fourteen years working as a Fisheries and Oceans Canada community adviser in the Campbell River region.
“My favourite part of the job is connecting with the volunteers that are so passionate about salmon stewardship. Working with the society allows me to work with those people while leveraging my hatchery experience in my own backyard (Campbell River),” said Morin.
“I’m impressed by how receptive they’ve been to adopting the new techniques we developed in consultation with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The new techniques will help increase fish production, fish survival rates and cut costs.”
The society continues to receive generous project financing from Pacific Salmon Foundation, RBC Bluewater and Marine Harvest, to name a few.
The Comox Valley community also supports the society through an annual fundraising dinner held each fall in partnership with the Pacific Salmon Foundation. Since its start in 1994, the dinner has helped contribute more than $1 million to local salmon projects, according to the dinner’s volunteer chair Judy Ackinclose.
The public can help provide funding support for local groups like the society by attending the Pacific Salmon Foundation’s Comox Valley dinner, dance and auction Sept. 22 at the Florence Filberg Centre in Courtenay. The event features raffles with top prizes of angling adventures and getaways, a seafood appetizer bar, champagne reception and music and dancing.
As in past years, the society will be out in force helping with all aspects of the event, and perhaps even bidding on some of the auction items.
Tickets are available at Gone Fishin’ (2720 Cliffe Ave.) or by contacting Judy Ackinclose at 250-335-0010 or email@example.com.
— Oyster River Enhancement Society