As the year comes to a close, we're finally ready to part ways with the last few salmon that have spent the past 11 months growing in the ThinkTank.
It's been quite an experience watching these little coho emerge from their eggs, spend their first few weeks hiding in the gravel, then start making the transition from alevin to fry (read more about each step below) - but now these fish are ready for life in the real world!
So after scooping up the final 15 coho and transporting them out to Goldstream, we once again let the fry swim free, where they will spend the rest of the winter months hunting down new food sources before making the transition out to the estuary in the spring, and eventually into the Salish Sea!
From there they will join other salmon of all species (namely chum and chinook) that will live their lives in local waters before returning to Todd Inlet to spawn. Each fall between 5,000-15,000 fish arrive at Goldstream to produce the next generation of this iconic west coast species - but those numbers are in steady decline.
Reduced spawning grounds, abundant fish farms, and poorly managed commercial fisheries all contribute to the worsening fate of these animals - but there are many organizations working tirelessly for salmon restoration. Whether it's supporting the Howard English Volunteer Hatchery or the Pacific Salmon Foundation, or simply taking the time to educate yourself about our local watershed and the wildlife that depends on it - every community advocate helps.
Thanks for following along our ThinkTank journey thus far, and spread the word by sharing this blog with your family and friends! We'll be back in the new year with another batch of coho salmon eggs to start the life cycle all over again...
Second Release (w/ West Coast Auctions)
With the return of summer, our nearly 100 salmon fry are rapidly growing in size - making them more than ready to for the next stage in their journey. With food available in the river, and thousands of their counterparts now on the search for food, it's time to give our little coho a shot at life in the wild.
On our second trip to Goldstream Park, we invited friends and colleagues Tyler Olson & Tara-Lee Novak of West Coast Auctions (along with their adorable daughter Betty Quinn) to join us on the release.
It was a stellar day in the Victoria area, and when we arrived we were thrilled to find dozens of wild salmon swimming in a small eddy near our release spot - so there's no doubt our salmon fry will mix right in on their first day at 'school'.
As a part of our journalling process, we're inviting clients to come to Roll.Focus. headquarters to pick out the 10-15 salmon they'd like to release before heading out to the provincial park! If you or your group have an interest in being a part of the last step of the Sea to Stream program and would like to join us for an upcoming release (until fall 2017), please let us know!
Steam To Sea Update
After an immediate backlash from teachers, parents and the general public, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has decided to completely reverse its May decision to terminate technical and education support contracts and to reassign staff working in the Pacific Region’s Resource Restoration Unit.
Below is an excerpt from Pacific Region Director Rebecca Reid:
On May 23, 2017, as part of the program integrity exercise, beginning in 2017-18, DFO and the Canadian Coast Guard will receive over $1.4 billion in new funding over the next five years. As you know, I met with Pacific Region staff to tell them that three elements of the Salmonid Enhancement Program were subject to program reductions (the education and community support programs, the resource restoration components, andSteelhead and Cutthroat trout production at our hatcheries). As well, that 16 Resource Restoration Unit staff were given letters stating that they were an affected employee whose services may no longer be required because of a work force adjustment situation (WFA).
Today, Mr. Terry Beech, Member of Parliament for Burnaby North-Seymour and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, confirmed that the services that were previously identified as being part of the program reductions will be maintained.
As a result, the Department is rescinding all the WFA notices that were previously issued and formal letters to that effect will be given to staff in the coming days. As well, we will be contacting the contractors affected by the program reductions to advise them that the funding will continue. We are also preparing a letter to be distributed broadly to indigenous groups and stakeholders.
I greatly regret the stress and worry caused to both staff and stakeholders, but I trust that you will welcome this favorable outcome.
That means the public voice does indeed work when it comes to swaying policy decisions, and we're thrilled to inform you that this wonderful salmon education program will continue into the fall and beyond July 2018!
No More Salmon in the Classroom (or Office!): Fisheries and Oceans Canada Terminates Stream to Sea Education Program
We couldn't believe the news when Don Lowen got in touch - Fisheries & Oceans Canada announced they were cancelling the Sea to Stream program as of July 31, 2017, preceding the next school year.
Sea to Stream is a program that Mike participated in as a child in grade school and still sees the tremendous value it provides today.
There's no better way to educate children, and frankly adults, on the value of salmon in our ecosystem than to raise them, care for them and release them personally.
While we acknowledge this federal program focuses solely on the Pacific region, given the impact of Sea to Stream, the negligible expense of maintaining it (0.2% of FOC's budget) far outweighs the alternative.
From the release, which we assisted in distributing to local media:
Victoria, BC – Educators, superintendents and community leaders are expressing their disbelief to the news that Fisheries and Oceans Canada has terminated education support contracts across British Columbia and the Yukon as of July 31, 2017. The decision will severely downsize, if not end, the Department’s Stream to Sea Education Program that involves 35,000 students in the Pacific Region.
The 30-year long program, which provides firsthand education about Pacific Salmon, will likely end for 3,000 students in Greater Victoria and the Gulf Islands alone. Locally, 105 classrooms annually raise wild Pacific salmon in classroom incubators, for release into 15 local streams and rivers. In urban areas, students mark storm drains to raise public awareness about non-point source pollution, and educators can attend free workshops to learn how to raise salmon in a classroom, dissect a salmon, or access and teach relevant curriculum.
The decision will allow the Department will reallocate about $400,000, or 0.2% of its annual budget, to other national priorities.
Please join us in expressing your concerns to the following:
1. Your Member of Parliament
2. Dominic Leblanc, Minister of Fisheries
Online at http://pm.gc.ca/eng/minister/honourable-dominic-leblanc
(Look for the email icon at the foot of the bio).
3. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister
Regardless, we will continue the ThinkTank within Roll.Focus. headquarters while working with members of the Goldstream Howard English Hatchery to find a way to fund the Stream to Sea program.
Now that we've been feeding our salmon for about a month, it's time to start moving the little coho to the next step in their adventure!
Since the start of April we have been feeding the fish a fine protein powder which has helped them develop from alevins into fry - and they're finally starting to take on some of the familiar adult salmon characteristics.
After netting a few of the most successful fish in the ThinkTank, we once again caught up with Don Lowen from Fisheries & Oceans Canada to go through the release process on the shores of Goldstream river. We begin by finding a calm eddy behind some rocks, and then cool the water in the bag down to the same temperature as the flowing stream.
Then we simply open up the bag and let the fry swim free, where they will begin the search for their natural food sources - invertebrates and various larvae that live in the river. In all, they will spend another 12 months in Goldstream, growing into juvenile fish before venturing out into Todd Inlet and the Pacific Ocean!
This release is just the first of many we'll be holding throughout the year - stay tuned for details on how your group or business can join along on one of our upcoming trips!
Fry Feeding Time
It's fitting that the ThinkTank has really sprung to life on the first day of spring. Over the past few days, dozens of salmon fry have been emerging from the gravel and starting to explore their new home.
The variety between the individual fish is pretty remarkable, with some of the coho appearing ghostly white, and others ranging from silver to tan, brown and even black!
Now that the fry are using the last of their yolk salk reserves from their time in the egg, we will begin feeding the young fish a high protein power to help them thrive while they learn to navigate the currents in our miniature stream.
It won't be long before these little fish are big enough to venture out into Goldstream River - we expect our first batches of salmon to return to the river sometime in late April. Watch for details on how your group or company can get involved and join us on release day!
Eggs To Alevin
We're onto exciting times in the ThinkTank - over the course of the last week our batch of coho eggs have all hatched and moved to the alevin stage of their life cycle! The transition didn't come without some concern, though...
Our salmon were well ahead of their expected hatching time, according to the ATU charts we explained when the eggs first arrived at our studio - but it appears that all of the coho delivered this winter are advancing ahead of schedule, and so far our little school is looking healthy and happy.
Now the young fish will spend a couple of weeks hiding out in the gravel bed, consuming their yolk sacks and developing some the crucial organs and scales that will help them survive in the stream environment over the next 12-18 months.
As the temperature outside begins to climb we'll also be slowly increasing the degrees inside our aquarium - and already our natural grasses are showing signs of new growth with spring just around the corner.
By early March our coho should begin to swim up from the rocks and go in search of food, which is when our tank will really come to life!
The eggs in our tank, and all of the Stream To Sea programs across Greater Victoria, came directly from the Goldstream River where each year hundreds of coho, chum and chinook salmon return to spawn.
A few years ago we went behind the scenes with the Goldstream Volunteer Salmonid Enhancement Association at the Howard English Hatchery to create a video for their website. Armed with hip waders, the staff wade into the river each fall to collect salmon of all species to harvest their eggs and milk. While the program raises thousands of fish in their own on-site tanks (as a means to improve the Goldstream stock), they also contribute more than 20,000 eggs to classroom programs across the Island each year.
It's a truly remarkable effort that has helped to maintain and increase the annual salmon run at Goldstream Park and across the Capital Region. The program runs a variety of programs across the city, and is always looking for more volunteers! Check them out online at www.gvsea.com
Soon enough our eggs will be hatching and make their move into the gravel bed to grow and develop as alevin... stay tuned!
Our adventure officially began this week when the salmon eggs arrived at our studio door. Fisheries & Oceans Canada Education Coordinator Don Lowen, who has been guiding us through the entire process, spent the last few days delivering batches to dozens of schools across Greater Victoria - and took a few minutes to explain the process for us (see the video above).
Our little bundle contained 200 coho salmon eggs, most of which were already showing signs of development - including little eyes shining through the translucent shells. There has been some concern about the eggs hatching early due to an unknown stress factor this year, and sure enough one of our little fish broke free within minutes of dipping into our tank. But it appears the rest of the bunch are now settled in for another 2-3 weeks of development before hatching and settling into the gravel bed below.
Now we'll be keeping close track of their progress using an ATU (accumulated temperature unit) chart - in which every degree of water temperature in a 24 hour cycle relates to the approximate hatching time of the eggs. The batch was delivered at 341 ATU, and are expected to hatch about 20-23 days later when they hit 450-475 ATU.
Watch for more updates as the salmon move from eggs to alevin in February!
The process of building the ThinkTank began with A LOT of research - ensuring that we created an environment that would be perfect for the needs of the young salmon, but also for the Roll.Focus. studio space.
With the help of our friends at UsedVictoria.com, we began by locating a 90 gallon tank that would fit nicely into the location we selected for the project. Because the fish spend the first two years of their life cycle in a cold freshwater environment, we also acquired a chiller to keep the tank at a crisp 5 degrees Celsius over the first few months.
From there we made a number of visits to Goldstream Park, Mount Douglas Park and the Colquitz River to observe the gravel, rocks and plants that exist in the salmon's natural environment, and develop a plan to integrate those features into our tank. We also found the root from a fallen tree that would fit perfectly in our tank, adding a fantastic decorative element to the display.
With all of the pieces in place, our next step was to assemble the tank step-by-step. After laying a sand bed for the native plant species to grow in, we placed a layer of gravel and a selection of local river rocks to provide the shelter and substrate the fish require.
Then came the faux-rock background, LED lighting and circulation pumps to simulate the stream environment the young salmon would emerge into. The next step was to fill the tank with treated water, free from any of the toxins, chlorides or heavy metals that may harm the fish in their most vulnerable stage.
With everything in place, the final stage was to leave the tank running for several days, allowing the water to cool and beneficial bacteria to begin to grow, all while keeping a close eye on the chemical conditions of the tank.
One week later we are ready for our batch of coho salmon to arrive, and can't wait to take you along for the ride!
This idea was spawned (get it?) from a video we produced for the Goldstream Hatchery in 2013, where we had the chance to witness first-hand the work volunteers are doing to revitalize the chum, coho and chinook salmon populations in our local waterways. Ever since working with their team, and other wildlife partners like Eagle Wing Tours and Swan Lake Nature House, we knew it would be important to play our part in supporting ecological initiatives in our own backyard.
Fast forward to a conversation in the fall of 2016 with Don Lowen - who serves as the Education Coordinator for Fisheries & Oceans Canada, running salmon incubation programs in schools across the South Island. We raised the idea of building a tank in our James Bay studio space, that would serve as both an educational tool for our clients and followers, but also a fantastic centrepiece for our work environment.
Within weeks, plans were hatched (heh) to get involved in the Stream to Sea Salmonid Enhancement program, and we can't wait to show you every step of the journey. Hopefully you'll enjoy watching our fish grow from eggs to alevin and eventually fry, and learn something along the way to releasing them back into local waterways!