Spring Hatchery Update

It has been all hands on deck this past week as the Mark Hobson Hatchery prepared for the release of thousands of juvenile Coho salmon into neighbouring Hartl Creek for their journey to the Pacific Ocean. Months of hard work go into the rearing of these fish in the on-campus hatchery, and students in Science 9 and Environmental Science 11 and 12, as well as the Fly-tying 360, play an important role in the annual cycle of incubating, caring for, and releasing the fry. Under the watchful eye of science teachers Laura Robson and Justin Wilke, students get hands-on experience while learning about the central role this species plays in the ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest.
For these fish, it was a unique journey just getting to this point. With their annual autumn return to the creek meeting a physical barrier in the form of a waterfall, all fish that return to the creek get a literal ‘lift’ upstream by a team of volunteers, including some Shawnigan students and staff. Working alongside the Mill Bay Conservation Society and the Goldstream Hatchery, the experience of physically handling and moving these adult salmon is quite profound. It is also during this stage that the broodstock is carefully selected and their eggs distributed to our hatchery on campus as well as the Goldstream Hatchery where they will be cared for until their release in the spring. This spring, the number of salmon released included just over 11,000 fry, contributing to the increase in population. With salmon in the wild only seeing a 10% survival rate, Shawnigan’s hatchery saw a rate of 70% survivorship this year. 

This spring, students were very excited to find several schools of healthy fry in Hartl Creek following the discovery of adult Coho who returned to spawn in Hartl Creek last November. “That makes all the hard work feel worthwhile,” says Robson, “when you can see the return of spawning adults who were very likely born in our hatchery!”

The role the School’s hatchery has on the local salmon population is a testament to the hard work and dedication of a core team of people who feel passionately about our environment, and for teacher Laura Robson, the impact it has on the students who get to experience it is immeasurable. With the addition of a new filtration system, the inner workings of the hatchery are continually being improved and contributing to the strength of the program since its inception in 1981. An integral part of the curriculum at Shawnigan, the future is looking bright for the fish who call this area home. For the students involved, it is hands-on learning like no other, and the School continues to deliver on its strategic pillar of innovating for Co-Curricular Distinction. 

The great work of the Mill Bay Conservation Society, with help from student and staff volunteers from Shawnigan Lake School, was highlighted in this story from The Canadian Press.
We acknowledge with respect the Coast Salish Peoples on whose traditional lands and waterways we live, learn and play. We are grateful for the opportunity to share in this beautiful region, and we aspire to healthy and respectful relationships with those who have lived on and cared for these lands for millennia.