These little frys are almost ready to be released back into their natural habitat, Swift Creek, to begin their five year journey before returning home to spawn. /SUBMITTED

By Andrea Arnold

Spruce City Wildlife Association Salmon Support Team is coming back to Valemount to return approximately 25,000 tiny chinook salmon fry to Swift Creek on Sunday May 7th. The team harvested the eggs from the creek last fall, and they have been incubating at the association’s hatchery in Prince George. 

Association president Dustin Snyder hopes Valemount residents as well as those from the surrounding communities join them for the release event. They are working alongside Tourism Valemount as well as Tina Donald, Simpcw Fisheries and Wildlife Manager, to build the one-day event into an annual celebration.

Snyder has observed that locals know the importance of the creek, and hopes that hosting yearly release events will help further build the connection between the locals, Tourism Valemount, the Simpcw and Swift Creek. 

He says he would like to see more education through tourism, showing more people how the creek contributes to the whole province.

“Everyone in attendance will be given the opportunity to personally introduce a couple of the frys into the creek,” said Snyder. “We will have cups that can carry one or two of the small fish.” 

“They are about two grams right now,” Snyder. “We will be fattening them up over the next few weeks though. They are used to being fed in the safety of the tank. It will take them a little time to figure out how to survive and find food so we want to do what we can to ensure they have the best chance.”

The number of fry being returned to the creek has been about the same for the past two years. This past year, Snyder said they had hoped to harvest 30,000 but they were unable to attain the final female needed to reach that number. 

This coming August following the team’s visit to Swift Creek in August, they hope to return to Prince George with closer to 40,000 eggs. The additional 10,000 eggs will require the team to successfully capture three more females than they have over the past two years.

Spruce City Wildlife Association is able to facilitate this increase following the successful testing of their newly-renovated facility. They have been given the go-ahead from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to increase their target number. In recent years, they have put $400,000 into renovations, plumbing and technology upgrades. Spruce City Wildlife says it’s common for 95 per cent of fish to survive to the fry stage in a hatchery compared to 4-6 per cent in nature.

“We have the most technologically-advanced volunteer facility in the province,” said Snyder. “We are the only volunteer group working with threatened and endangered chinook stocks.” 

The Spruce City team will arrive Sunday morning to set up in the parking area at the Swift Creek viewing platform. The release event will run from 12:30 – 2:30pm, and they ask that those wanting to attend, please allow the team time to set up prior to that time.  The fry are quite vulnerable and they need to make sure everything is prepared for them to make the successful transition from tank to creek. 

Even prior to their arrival in Valemount, the transport tanks have to be continuously monitored. 

“We have to stop every 15 minutes to check the oxygen levels in the tanks,” said Snyder. “The trip from Prince George normally takes about three hours, but with the frys on board, it takes an additional hour.”

Although Snyder was unable to attend last year’s release, he received reports from the team that there were a number of locals in attendance. This year, they anticipate a larger turnout and want to invite people to join the team for a BBQ following the release.

The team will be returning to Valemount from August 11-14th for their annual egg harvest. If they are unable to reach their goal of 40,000 during that time frame, they will return the following weekend to complete the task.