The Chinook Net Pen project commenced in 2013 when it was identified as a release strategy that could potentially increase Chinook survival in the Barkley Sound. With the assistance of Department of Fisheries and Oceans staff from Robertson Creek Hatchery and Nitinat Hatchery, a plan was developed. The plan for the first year was to conduct a demonstration net pen with 10,000 salmon. This would give volunteers a taste of the complexity of rearing fish in a net pen. First Nations, sports fishermen, stewards and the general community jumped on board to construct a net pen suitable for 10,000 salmon. The frames were generously donated by Rob Hill. The group worked together to put the frames together and find a suitable site. Water quality testing was done throughout the Alberni inlet to find a good location. Fortunately, the Port Alberni Port Authority was able to offer a great site near the marina on the dock behind Port Boat House. We towed the net over and members of the Alberni Valley Enhancement Association assisted with feeding the salmon and doing water quality testing. We were pleased to see the fish grow and do well in their new environment. After a few weeks, we released them and hope to see them again in four to six years!
Because this project was handled so well, the partners decided to move forward with year two. Department of Fisheries and Oceans approved a net pen release of 100,000 Chinook salmon. This would mean much larger frames and nets. We were very fortunate to receive donated frames from Mainstream and very happy that Dan Mihayachuk was able to tow them up the inlet for us. We were so happy to receive funding from Pacific Western Brewery, Pacific Salmon Foundation, Arnie Begg and the Tuna Shootout to assist with our costs. We were also very lucky that Larry McKenzie and the Mars Rustler were on hand to assist with putting the nets together. We were thankful that the Somass Mill provided access to the net pen site. On May 13th, the salmon arrived in their new home, at a site graciously provided by the Port Alberni Port Authority near the Somass Mill, and also a small public site on Centennial Pier. We raised 45,000 in each large net and 10,000 in the small net. We held the fish for two weeks and observed schooling behaviour, predator avoidance and the fish doubled in size from 4g to 8g. We released them on May 28th and had lunch to celebrate with our wonderful volunteers. We would especially like to thank Pacific Western Brewery, Pacific Salmon Foundation, Arnie Begg, Tuna Shootout, Dan Mihaychuk, Larry McKenzie and Mars Rustler, Port Alberni Port Authority, Somass Mill, Robertson Creek Hatchery, Nitinat Hatchery (with special thanks to Cory Jones, Steve Emmonds, Rob Brouwer and Georgia Borgford), Pete Milliken, Ron Creber, Jake Leyenaar, Hugh Freeman, Joe Micelli, Jim Wilkinson, and Hans Schier. Finally, this project would not have been possible without the enthusiasm and support of Bob Cole.