It was a high-flying adventure for thousands of fish Tuesday morning at the Puntledge River Hatchery.
As part of their once-a-year release of coho salmon to Comox Lake, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada employs the use of a helicopter to transport fry to Comox Lake.
Working in conjunction with DFO, the Courtenay and District Fish and Game Protective Association was able to create a partnership, and send around 20,000 fish in the air, which were placed into Bradley Lake at the top of the Trent River.
“(The road near) Bradley Lake (has) been decommissioned … so we can’t drive there any more and we’re going to piggyback with Puntledge Hatchery so when they’re out placing fish we’re going to bring ours, too,” explained Larry Church, manager of the hatchery at the fish and game club.
He added volunteers have not been able to access the area for about three years.
“It’s a good solid source of water all summer, so it’s the best chance they have of surviving.”
Because of circumstances near their hatchery, particularly the loss of usable water, volunteers haven’t been able to oxygenate the water. Their facilities are more than 30 years old, Church said.
Now working with the Puntledge River Hatchery, volunteers have been able to incubate eggs and raise fry at the facility.
“Without bringing them here, we would not have a hatchery. It’s been a really good learning experience for my crew.”
DFO enlisted the help of Grizzly Helicopters to make six flights with about 40,000 fish per trip held in four separate oxygenated tanks hanging below.
Church said the hatchery onsite at the fish and game club is still a couple of years away from being fully functional, as they are going to hook onto the deep water intake being put in at Comox Lake.
The current (fish and game club) hatchery is on property loaned by logging companies, but the new facility will eventually be on property owned by the club.
“We will have some sort of building and raceways and not sure exactly what we’re going to have yet – we’re working in conjunction with Puntledge River Hatchery. We’re taking their lead on a lot of things.”
The coho released Tuesday are clipped – able to be caught – and will spend about one year in the river and two years in the ocean, and will be ready for anglers in about three to four years, added Church.