May 27, 2019

Spring at the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC Hatcheries

In this series of blog posts, we take you behind the scenes at the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC’s hatcheries through the seasons. Here we explore what happens during the eventful springtime, when staff are working tirelessly at egg-collection stations, stocking fish into lakes and rivers across the province, and caring for the fish and eggs at the hatcheries.

Releasing Fish into Lakes and Rivers

Spring is the busiest time of year for the hatcheries, as most of the lake stocking events for the year occur between April and June. Dependent upon the weather, water temperatures, fish size, ice remaining on the lakes, and any research requirements, the stocking release date for each lake can vary year-to-year.

By spring, fish that have been growing for the past five to 18 months are now fry, fingerling, yearling, or catchable size, and ready to be transferred to their new homes. Some of the first lakes to be stocked are urban lakes near Vancouver and Victoria; catchable-sized fish are released to create early opportunities to fish in these lower-elevation areas where water temperatures are warmer.

Most stocking during the spring is done by truck. Fish are loaded into the stocking vehicles’ big tanks, which are filled with oxygenated water. At the release site, large pipes are fitted to these tanks, and the fish are released into their new lake or river via gravity feed. For a few hard-to-reach locations, fish are loaded into a backpack container and carried into the lake.

Carrying fish into Bear Lake via backpack. Aaron Wolff.

Rainbow, anadromous cutthroat, and steelhead trout are released by Fraser Valley Trout Hatchery. Rainbow, steelhead trout, and coastal cutthroat trout are released by Vancouver Island Trout Hatchery. Our Clearwater, Summerland, and Kootenay facilities release eastern brook and rainbow trout. Kokanee fry (a landlocked sockeye salmon) are also released by Clearwater and Kootenay facilities. Kootenay is the only hatchery to raise and release westslope cutthroat trout.

Most fish are stocked into lakes; however, coastal cutthroat and steelhead smolts are released into coastal rivers, and will journey to the ocean where they’ll spend part or most of their adult lives. This spring, anadromous coastal cutthroat were released into the Oyster River on Vancouver Island, and the Chehalis, Fraser, Harrison, and Little Campbell rivers on the mainland.

The Society works closely with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and shares the rearing and releasing of steelhead. In the Lower Mainland, steelhead smolts were released into the South Alouette, Stave, Little Campbell, Chilliwack, Seymour, and Chehalis rivers over the past few months. In two years’ time, these smolts will return as adult fish to spawn – as well as to provide an exciting recreational fishery. On Vancouver Island, the Society assists the Robertson Creek Hatchery in May with the release of steelhead into the Somass/Stamp River.

In addition to stocking fish for recreational purposes, the Society also manages special recovery programs for endangered species. In May, juvenile Nechako white sturgeon were released into the Nechako River near Vanderhoof, and juvenile Columbia white sturgeon into the Lower Columbia River and Arrow Lake south of Revelstoke.

To read more on the species and strains we stock, visit the Stocked Species section of our site. And to see which lakes were stocked and when, run a stocking report.

Egg Collection

Society staff capture fish from designated broodstock lakes, and use them to spawn and fertilize eggs. The fish are either captured in net traps or in creek traps as they move from lake to stream to reproduce. Numbers of fish are monitored carefully to ensure that enough fish have passed through the traps to maintain the local population. Since conditions vary each year, staff must wait for the ice to come off the lakes, and daytime temperatures to rise, before installing the net and creek traps.

Net trap at Dragon Lake. Charlotte Lawson.

From April to early June, Society staff were busy collecting rainbow trout eggs from Dragon Lake, near Quesnel. These eggs will be incubated at the Fraser Valley, Clearwater, Vancouver Island, and Kootenay Trout hatcheries over the summer, and eventually released in the spring of next year.
Eggs were also collected from Premier Lake in the Kootenay region. Eggs collected from this lake are incubated, then raised to be released as fry in the fall of this year, or as yearlings next year.
Beaver Lake, near Lake Country, and Pennask Lake, on the Thompson plateau, are other collection sites for rainbow trout eggs. Eggs have been collected at Pennask – the oldest egg-collection site in the province – since 1928.

Echo Creek trap at Beaver Lake. Kyle Girgan.

The sole collection site for westslope cutthroat trout eggs is Connor Lake in Height of the Rockies Provincial Park. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has listed the westslope cutthroat as a species of special concern. The Connor Lake egg-collection station is only in operation during even-numbered years.

Fish Spawning and Rearing

Since the Society releases fish at various stages of development, spawning occurs at many times throughout the year; incubation of eggs and rearing of juvenile fish are ongoing processes.  

The next installment in this blog series will take a look at the summer activities at the hatcheries. Stay tuned!

Words: Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC Staff
Images: Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC Staff