Chapman Creek: Hatchery won’t keep fish this summer with drought likely

The Sunshine Coast Salmonid Enhancement Society is making changes in the face of growing uncertainty about summer water flows.

Society executive director and Chapman Creek Hatchery manager Simon Grant told Coast Reporter the Society does not expect to be able to keep any fish on site in July, August and September.

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“The last five years we’ve been in drought conditions. We have to protect the salmon and trout we have on site, and if we cannot provide optimum conditions for them, it’s borderline cruelty,” Grant said.

The problem is twofold. During a drought, the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) will release only enough water into Chapman Creek to meet the Department of Fisheries and Oceans minimum required flow rate of 200 litres per second. But Grant said even if the volume is enough, the temperature of the water is likely to be too high. He said it has hit the low 20s C in recent summers.

The Society recently received a $30,500 grant from the Community Forest Legacy Fund to pay for testing to back up a well licensing application under the province’s new Water Sustainability Act. 

Drawing from the on-site well can supplement the water flow and introduce cooler water into their tanks, but the provincial legislation restricts the hatchery from using the well unless it’s licensed.

Grant said testing will go ahead over the summer, but there’s a possibility it will show drawing on the well impacts creek flow, which could mean, even with a licence, the hatchery will not be allowed to use the well during droughts.

He also said if the SCRD had been able to go ahead with the Chapman Lake expansion, it would have offered the potential to send cooler water from deeper in the lake downstream, but lower temperatures and increased flows wouldn’t be guaranteed.

The Society has decided the prudent approach was to plan for drought conditions again this summer.

The hatchery has begun selling off its stock of rainbow trout, some of which are destined for the Sunshine Coast Community Services Society’s food bank, and making arrangements to have coho salmon that won’t be ready for release transferred to the Capilano River Hatchery in North Vancouver until October.

The Society is also cancelling the popular Kids Catch a Trout Day, which typically takes place in early July, and will not hold a fundraising gala this year.

Society president Pat Moore said there are several reasons behind the decision to cancel the gala, including wanting to avoid volunteer and donor burnout after 21 years of successful events and a desire to step back and take a fresh look at fundraising at the same time as the Society rethinks its outreach and education programs.

Both Moore and Grant said they expect, without fish to see, people may not come out to the hatchery as much as they have in past summers.

“We have busloads of people coming from Vancouver – 40 at a time – and they want to see the coho,” Grant said.

“We’re looking at ways of adjusting our outreach and education… I don’t want people saying it’s the end of the hatchery. What it is, is just a shift in our programming and how we reach out.”

Moore made a similar observation and said she wants the community and businesses that have been “over the top” in their support for the Society and the hatchery to know “we are not going down – we are moving in a different direction.”

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