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PCDHFC HATCHERY OPERATIONS
A photo story by Norm Fletcher and Marek Syrzycki
Please scroll through the photos and text below to learn about Coquitlam River Chinook and Coho salmon and experience the highlights of a year of activities at our hatchery.
AL GRIST MEMORIAL HATCHERY / GRIST GOESON MEMORIAL HATCHERY
Depleted Coquitlam River salmon stocks that survived after 1910, when a dam blocked access to a large portion of the watershed and destroyed the sockeye run, were severely damaged by flood control gravel removal and grading work in the riverbed for some 20 years after 1955. PCDHFC volunteers organized to restore these stocks; secured support from City of Coquitlam, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), BC Hydro, Metro Vancouver, Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF) and North Fraser Salmon Assistance Project and started funding and operating the hatchery in 1980. It was the first and it is still the largest hatchery in the watershed. Our operation has grown and improved with continuing assistance from our initial partners and others and their ongoing support is much appreciated.
The hatchery was named after Al Grist, PCDHFC Past President, who initiated and led the project until his passing in 2002. In 2015, PCDHFC changed the name to Grist Goeson Memorial Hatchery to recognize the services of Wayne Goeson. Wayne was a Past President of PCDHFC who was active in conservation work in the Lower Mainland Region. He served the hatchery through all stages from initial construction and startup in1980 to regular operating duties until he passed away in June, 2014.
The 3.5 million young salmon produced and released from our hatchery to date have been instrumental in the survival and growth of Coquitlam River salmon returns. While our volunteers have worked with every species of Pacific Salmon (except Sockeye) only Chinook and Coho are raised at present. Each year 75,000 to 100,000 Coho eggs are taken from Coquitlam River broodstock , and 25,000 to 50,000 eyed Chinook eggs are received from DFO's hatchery at Chilliwack. About 23,000 young Coho are retained for adipose fin clipping and rearing for a year, for release as smolts, to support ocean and Coquitlam sport fisheries. Recent run sizes have been 3,000 to 4,000 Chinook, 15,000 to 40,000 Chum, 3,000 to 4,000 Coho, 8,000 to 12,000 Pink, 100 to 200 Steelhead and 2 to 6 Sockeye salmon. Time periods for these runs are July to September for Pinks and Sockeye, September and October for Chinook and Chums, November to December for Coho and December to February for Steelhead. Between 7 and 10 percent of the returning Coho are marked. All of the Chinook, most of returning Coho and many of the Chum have hatchery raised ancestors in their family trees.
This photo story highlights the extensive work efforts required, in the river and at the hatchery, to preserve Coquitlam River Chinook and Coho stocks for future generations. Hatchery duties are performed every day of the year by our core group of about 20 volunteers. DFO provides physical, technical and financial assistance for our work. The hatchery could not function without this excellent support. A big thank you goes to everyone who helps with our day to day operations.
LET'S GET STARTED!
Our story begins on the riverbank early in November when our volunteers and DFO personnel commence the first of 6 or 7 weekly gatherings for netting the season's Coho broodstock.
The story advances in the actual time sequences that occur at our hatchery as the Chinook and Coho stocks progress through their development and growth phases from eggs to the release of smolts which are ready to begin their journey to the ocean.
One of our broodstock teams with our oxygen-equipped transport trailer.
Maurice Coulter-Boisvert, Community Advisor, DFO has taken one end of the net across the river
and he is starting to lead it downstream.
John Martin and Dave Belgrove beat water to scare fish upstream and into the net.
Coho with jaws (not gills) tangled in the 4 inch mesh net. The small mesh net is used to minimize possibilities for fatalities
from to gill damage. The net is cut to easily remove any fish caught by the gills.
Removing a large catch of Coho from net.
Scott Duchame and Sandy Lamberton move a female Coho from the net into a live bag to be carried to the trailer.
A total catch of between 100 and 120 adult salmon is required to stock the hatchery.
Rick LaJambe and Tony Matahlija show a 12 kg (25 lb +) Chinook that was released.
Maurice removes a male and a female Chum from the net. These fish will be spawned to stock
DFO's school programs in the Lower Mainland.
Volunteers float and carry live bags of Coho back to the trailer for transport
to the hatchery for "ripening".
Maurice and Scott compare and sort male and female Coho into fish tanks at
the hatchery where they "ripen" to maturity for spawning.
A large, but too silvery and still immature, 5.5kg (12 lb.) male Coho.
Sandy displays a very large 7 kg (15.5 lb.) mature male. Coquitlam Coho do not come much larger than this.
The bright red colouring usually indicates a mature fish.
Maurice checks a large male Coho for maturity which is confirmed when milt can be expressed.
A large female Coho is checked for maturity which is confirmed when eggs can be expressed.
The dark, almost black, colouring is indicative of a mature fish that is ready to spawn.
A male's milt, which contains sperm, is expressed and collected for fertilizing eggs.
Females are killed, bled and dried in preparation for taking their eggs. Water or blood on the eggs
prior to fertilization significantly decreases fertilization success rates.
The side of the belly is opened and the eggs are stripped into a container.
After the container of eggs is weighed, a sample of eggs is counted and weighed to determine the average weight per
egg. The average weight per egg is divided into the weight of the eggs from the container to calculate the total number of
eggs taken from each female and, on completion of broodstocking activities, to establish the total number of eggs that are
to be incubated in the hatchery this year. The total number of eggs is not permitted to exceed the limit stipulated in the
annual hatchery license issued by DFO.
The fertilization process commences by mixing a small amount of the milt taken from each of several males into a bucket that contains
the eggs from one female. This simulates conditions in stream spawning areas which provide genetic diversity in the salmon stock.
Fertilization occurs almost instantaneously when water is added to the eggs/milt mix. Fertilized eggs turn brighter
in colour and unfertilized (dead) eggs turn white.
Fertilized eggs are drained, water rinsed in a colander and disinfected for ten minutes in a solution of buffered iodine fungicide.
Treated eggs are placed in Heath Trays, dead (white) eggs are carefully removed (and counted), the tray is placed
in a stack of trays and left in flowing water to incubate in darkness. In nature the eggs would be buried
in the gravel of the streambed at this stage.
Eyed Coho eggs in late December. The black dots are embryonic eyes forming in the eggs. The eyed eggs are "shocked" by pouring them from their tray from a height of about 250 mm (10 in.) into about 75 mm (3 inches) of water in a container which kills the weakest eggs and reduces possibilities for fungus infections and diseases for the balance of the incubation process. After eyes appear, the Incubating eggs are checked regularly for indications of fungus. Dead eggs are removed, counted and recorded and the number of live eggs in the hatchery is always known.
Eyes appear in Coho eggs after about 220 ATUs. Hatching occurs after about 460 ATUs. While the Chinook eggs that were received from Chilliwack hatchery in early November are a bit larger, they were similar in appearance to the Coho eggs shown in this photo. Chinook eggs eye at about 250 ATUs and hatch at about 520 ATUs.
Incubation and hatching durations are different for each salmon species. The durations depend on water temperatures and are determined by Accumulated Thermal Units (ATUs). A Thermal Unit is defined as one degree Celsius of temperature for a duration of one day. At an average water temperature of 6 degrees, Coho eggs will be eyed in 37 days and hatched into alevins in 77 days from fertilization.
Chinook alevins (approx. 25mm (1 Inch) long in late December recently hatched from imported eyed eggs after about 520 ATUs (9 weeks) at our hatchery. At this stage the alevins in the tray are swimming quite actively, as they would be in the voids in a redd (nest) in streambed gravel in nature. When a tray is opened, they try to avoid light by moving under other alevins to stay close to the bottom of the tray. Treatments are applied if disease or fungus is detected. The alevins live on the contents of their orange egg sacs until they are ready to leave their tray as free-swimming fry or, in nature, are ready to swim out of the streambed gravel.
Chinook alevins in late January with egg sacs about half absorbed and parr marks (large oval spots on their sides )
forming about 5 weeks prior to becoming free swimming fry that will be transferred to a rearing trough for feeding.
Coho eggs hatching in late January. This photo shows fully developed embryos in some eggs, alevins partially out
of some eggs, newly hatched alevins and empty egg shells.
Coho eggs starting to hatch in late January. Two alevins are free, the tail of another is out of its egg
and the full term embryos are clearly visible in the other eggs.
Coho alevins in mid-February about 10 days after hatching. In a streambed environment, these alevins would still
be buried in their redd (nest) in the gravel.
Coho alevins 3 weeks after hatching.
Normal and abnormal Coho alevins. In nature, such abnormalities are few and normal. The "siamese" alevin will die
soon after the shared egg sac is absorbed because it will not be able to compete for or digest food efficiently.
Also note the size difference.
Approximately 4,000 Chinook fry are transferred in their Heath Tray incubation basket to a rearing trough in
late February approximately 10 weeks after hatching.
Close up of Chinook fry being transferred to a rearing trough in late February. These fry are about 35 mm (1.5 inches) long,
their egg sacs are fully absorbed and their distinctive parr marks are showing clearly on their sides. Parr marks are different
in sizes, shapes and patterns for each salmon species.
These Chinook fry are slowly starting to leave their incubation basket in the rearing trough. They will rise to the water surface to take a "gulp" of air, which will activate their swim bladders, before they slowly start to feed on "fry food" (small granules of a commercially prepared dry mix of ground fish, krill and other nutrients). The swim bladders permit the fish to change depths. The food is sprinkled by hand or by auto-feeder belt onto the water surface. After a day or two their feeding habits become aggressive and they grow rapidly. At this stage in a stream environment, the fry swim out of the gravel and start to feed on small insects and aquatic life forms. Growth in the wild is more difficult and slower than it is in a hatchery.
Chinook fry after being fed for four weeks in a rearing trough.
Coho alevins with egg sacs about half absorbed in mid-March about 4 weeks before becoming fry. At this stage
in a natural environment, the alevins are still buried in the streambed gravel.
Coho alevins showing the remnants of their egg sacs almost absorbed. At 127 days from fertilization, these fish will soon
be ready for transfer from their incubation tray to a rearing trough for feeding.
Coho fry early in April 35 mm (1.25 inches) long and 134 days from egg fertilization showing orange lines on their bellies,
where egg sacs have been absorbed, and distinctive parr marks on their sides. These fish are ready for transfer
to a rearing trough to be fed with fry food.
Coho fry in the rearing trough, early in April, leaving their incubation tray to swim to the surface for air to activate their swim bladders. They will soon start feeding on the fry food granules that are floating on the water surface. All of our Coho fry production is reared for approximately three months in the trough.
At this stage in a stream environment, these fish would be swimming out of the gravel to feed aggressively on small insect and aquatic life forms. After avoiding predators and growing for another 14 to 15 months the survivors will migrate downstream to the ocean.
We retain approximately 23,000 Coho fry for clipping and rearing for the 14 to 15 months required for them to mature into smolts that are ready to go to sea. The balance of the Coho fry (50,000 to 75,000) are released in May into Coquitlam River and tributary streams habitats.
Chinook parr in mid-April, 50 to 65 mm (2.0 to 2.5 inches) long with parr marks fading, as they start to become smolts and change to their green back, silver sides ocean colours in preparation for migrating to the ocean. The hatching and development progression for young salmon of all species is from eggs, to alevins, to fry, to juveniles, to parr and to smolts which are ready to journey downstream to the ocean.
Dave releasing Chinook smolts into the Coquitlam River in early June. These smolts will spend very little time in the river. They
seem to know that food rich ocean habitat is just a short distance downstream. We hope that between 3 and 5 percent
of our smolt production will return to the river in 3 to 5 years weighing between 3 and 20 kg (7 and 44 lbs).
Mike and Rebecca Ciccone help goddaughter Natalie release Chinook smolts at the hatchery on an evening in May.
Many families participate in and enjoy our fish releases.
Coho parr in process of maturing to a smolt. Note the faded parr marks and the growing prominence of silver colouring.
Coho smolt in June "silvered up" and ready for release to go to sea. This fish is from the 23,000 parr that were clipped 11 months
earlier. It has been cared for in our hatchery for about 18 months from eggs to smolt stage. These fish have fed very aggressively
and grown to lengths ranging from 115 to 180 mm (4.5 to 7.0 inches). Most of the survivors will return at age 3 after spending
about 18 months in the ocean. The very large coho shown in earlier photos are probably 4 years old.
Brendan Fletcher, Ric Locke and son, Jet, release Coho smolts into the river in June. After about 18 months
in the ocean, between 5 to 7 percent of these fish will return to the Coquitlam River in November and December
as adults, spawn, die, decompose and provide nutrients that will support small aquatic life forms to feed
emerging fry and complete their life cycle.
In late July, Cameron Fletcher places Coho juveniles in an anaesthetic solution for 20 to 30 seconds to sedate them for
clipping. As with hospital operations for people, the fish are not fed the day before or on the day that they are clipped.
Coho juveniles 45 to 65 mm (1.75 to 2.50 inches) long, in a basin on the clipping table, sedated and ready for clipping.
Note the bubbles which indicate that the fish are breathing and that they will soon recover from the anaesthesia.
Volunteers clipping Coho in late July. This group clips approximately 7,000 fish per hour. Note that anaesthetized fish
are being distributed from the small net into the basins in front of the clipping stations. Clipping operations are busy
and popular with families and friends.
Closeup of clipping operation with the fin still on the scissors. The specs in the basin are removed fins. Fresh water, which flows
in the gutter at the edge of the table, carries clipped fish into a bucket where they recover very quickly from the anaesthetic.
Full buckets of recovered fish are returned to the hatchery fish tanks for observation. The mortality rate from the clipping
process is very low (usually less than 1 per 2,000 fish). The clipped Coho will be fed and cared for at the hatchery
for 11 more months before they become silvered smolts that are ready to travel to the ocean.
Port Coquitlam Rivers and Trails Festival
PCDHFC hatchery volunteers entertain large numbers of families and kids of all ages at this annual event in late September
by providing 2,000 to 3,000 young Coho juveniles for them to carry in water filled plastic bags and release into
Coquitlam tributary pond habitat at Lions Park in Port Coquitlam. For many youngsters, and even for some adults,
this is their first close look at a live salmon. Rain or shine, a great time is enjoyed by all !
THIS IS NOT THE END
While "Rivers Day" is usually our last group event before receiving Chinook eggs and the start of broodstock activities in November, it is not in any way an end for our hatchery operations. The 23,000 t0 25,000 clipped Coho require daily care, equipment has to be prepared for the start of new broods in November and hatchery maintenance and capital improvement projects have to be completed. The volunteers and DFO personnel continue on their regular schedule "hatchery day" duties. Their efforts have improved, and we hope that they will continue to improve, Coquitlam River salmon runs. Their ongoing participation in preserving and enhancing these salmon stocks is very much appreciated. PCDHFC has actively supported conservation efforts in our communities since 1956 and we are looking forward to continuing our involvements through Grist Goeson Memorial Hatchery salmon enhancement and other activities for many more years.
If you are interested in participating in any of our hatchery activities please contact
Norm Fletcher (Telephone: 604-942-0371 Email: email@example.com).