GORDON OLSON DIRECTS a stream of water and coho smolts into a side channel of the Oyster River.

Volunteers key to survival of fishery

Young and old alike donate their time to keep cycle of life alive

On Sunday, May 5 I was involved with the Fanny Bay Enhancement Society’s annual River Never Sleeps Festival at the Rosewall Creek enhancement facilities. On Tuesday, May 7 I was involved with the Oyster River Enhancement Society’s celebration of the release of their coho smolts.

At Rosewall Creek, many of the smolts were carried in small containers by children and interested adults and released directly into Rosewall Creek. It was an emotionally charged activity for all of the participants – especially the children. Throughout the day-long festivities my information is that they released in excess of 30,000 smolts into the river. It is a classic case of getting young children involved in an activity that permits them to begin to make the connections of raising small fish in the security of the enhancement facility until they can mange on their own in the rigorous challenges of the natural world.

Yes, they have been nurtured in a hatchery to this point and the major reason we must assist wild creatures at delicate phases of their life cycles is that our exploitation of wild places has made these places unfit to begin the salmon’s journey of life. With the continued disconnect of the federal government in conservation programs of all types, these moments take on added significance.

The Oyster River event was quite different, although equally exciting. In this case the students in a Grade 11class from Campbell River were actively involved with the members of the society in transferring the smolts from their rearing pen to tanks in trucks.

They formed a living chain where buckets of water and  fish were passed from one student to another up a steep bank until they were transferred to the tank in the waiting truck.  They were then transported about a kilometre downriver where they were released into a side channel from which they would make their way into the mainstream Oyster River.

While this process was taking place a Grade 5 class was involved in observing the process from start to finish. The picture accompanying the column is of Gordon Olson, a retired farmer from the Peace River, who was holding and directing the stream of water and coho smolts as they were pumped out of the tank on the truck into the shaded waters of the side channel.

Gordon stands alone in the cold water of the side channel and is symbolic of two years of work by dedicated volunteers to raise these coho smolts so they can enter the river and the Strait of Georgia, growing into adult coho in another two years.

In Gordon Olson’s case he is not a fisherman; he, like hundreds of other retired Valley residents, wanted to pay back what his country has given him.

The enhancement programs featured in this column are symbolic of an incredibly important conservation movement involving a broad section of society from the very young to those approaching their twilight years. There are thousands of participants and their contribution is taking on an added significance with the continued withdrawal of the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Canada in supporting wild salmon enhancement programs.

As I write this column I received a tip that the final processes are being put in place to close the Comox office of DFO. They may counter that they have just given the Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF) the proceeds from salmon stamp sales to help defray the costs of these volunteer program.

From this column’s perspective the gifting to the PSF of funds from salmon stamp sales is a Faustian deal when you compare it to the hundreds of millions the federal government is spending on subsidizing and promoting pipelines and the petroleum industry which is a major source of carbon dioxide that is enhancing and speeding up the process of climate change.

It raises an increasingly important principal of whether or not the federal government has any fiduciary responsibility to the people of this coast and our threatened salmon runs in the face of climate change.

In the meantime, the people of this coast are stepping up to the plate to try to preserve the magical ecosystems that make this rich land such a special place. Let’s hope the children make the necessary connections of life cycles.


Ralph Shaw is a master fly fisherman who was awarded the Order of Canada in 1984 for his conservation efforts. In 20 years of writing a column in the Comox Valley Record it has won several awards.



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