Fish hatchery needs water to survive

Ken Kirkby stands near Nile Creek. A hatchery he helped to bring salmon back is facing the potential loss of its water supply over decades-old licensing issues. - Lissa Alexander
Ken Kirkby stands near Nile Creek. A hatchery he helped to bring salmon back is facing the potential loss of its water supply over decades-old licensing issues.
— image credit: Lissa Alexander

 Water will continue to be supplied to the Nile Creek Hatchery in Qualicum Bay for at least a couple more weeks, while the local Waterworks District, The Nile Creek Enhancement Society (NCES) and various government organizations try to work out an arrangement to keep the successful, community-built hatchery alive.

Nearly 20 years ago a group of locals decided to try and bring back a sub-species of the sea-run cutthroat, known locally as the yellow bellies. It was decided in order to restore this unique fish’s numbers, the pink salmon needed to be re-established. Their carcasses bring vital nutrients needed for the insects to thrive, therefore helping the cutthroat and other species during their freshwater stay. The Nile Creek Enhancement Society, made up of a group of local residents, mostly retired, set to work incubating pink salmon eggs.

The society has encountered a number of struggles over the years but today, with the help of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and their dedicated volunteers, they are doing better than ever, said immediate past president of NCES Ken Kirkby.

“We began the long journey to here and finally it’s bore huge fruit,” he said, referring to close to 200,000 returning fish to the creek over the last two years. 

Since 1993, NCES has been using the water license belonging to the Qualicum Bay Horne-Bay Lake Waterworks District, as non-profits can’t get their own license. NCES tapped into the district’s old, unused system and it was agreed that they could also use their pipe. 

Chair of the Waterworks District, Gordon Lundine, said a meeting was held with DFO, the provincial water controller and NCES two years ago, advising that after two years NCES would have to either get their own license or changes would have to be made, as the hatchery actually falls a few feet outside of the boundaries of the district, among other issues.  

“If the water board continues to supply water to them we’re going contrary to the rules of our bylaws and to the rules of our letters patent for supplying water that is outside the boundary,” said Lundine.

DFO could get a water license for the Crown Land the hatchery sits on, but new policy restricts them from getting involved in such cases.

Kirkby said it’s an example of how, when humans get angry at each other, they get foolish. And just how ridiculous the outcome can be.

 “All this can be rectified by people of goodwill sitting down and negotiating their way through what is really such an insignificant problem,” he said.

John Baldwin, the assistant regional water manager with the ministry of forests, lands and natural resource operations in Nanaimo, said it’s up to the two parties to work out a solution they can work with. 

The Water District could continue to hold the water license and supply water to the hatchery, but they would need to change the boundaries, he said. This would require an application and some justification, but his impression is that it would be approved, he said.

At a Waterworks District meeting Wednesday Lundine said the board had spoken with Baldwin and it was now up to the NCES to write a letter to the district asking to extend the boundaries, which will then go on to the provincial water controller for approval. But NCES would have incur all the costs associated with doing this, and it would first have to be approved by the Vancouver Island Health Authority, which is involved in water board boundary extensions.

Lundine said he also asked permission to continue to service the hatchery with water until at least hatching is complete this season, a couple of weeks Lundine figured. And that’s about all they can do, he said.

“We can’t do anymore, that’s the way it’s been from the beginning. We’ve been trying to be helpful right from the beginning, years and years ago.”

Kirkby said however it needs to be done, he is just hopeful an agreement can be met, for the good of the fish and the whole community.

“We are a hopeful lot, we are filled with goodwill and we live in hope that others will be the same,” he said, adding, “This was accomplished by volunteers with the support and backing of a community for the good of all.”


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