Most of the 400,000 coho salmon smolt at Big Qualicum Fish Hatchery died after last week’s major windstorm knocked out power that circulated oxygen through their tanks. — Photo courtesy DFO

Qualicum hatchery loses thousands of fish in storm

5,000 of 400,000 left after alarm failure at Big Qualicum Hatchery

Last week’s windstorm didn’t just cut power to thousands of people on Vancouver Island.

It also killed hundreds of thousands of coho salmon a the Big Qualicum Hatchery, Fisheries and Oceans Canada confirmed this week.

The hatchery aims to produce 400,000 coho smolts (young salmon) every year, but that target is out of reach after the windstorm that affected more than 15,000 BC Hydro customers on the Island also knocked out the pumps for the coho ponds Tuesday, May 23.

“Due to a failure in the alarm system, staff were not alerted to this until 6:30 a.m. Wednesday (on May 24),” according to Athina Vazeos, a communications advisor for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Most of the 2016 coho production was lost, with about 5,000 still alive, she said.

The target production total for hatcheries in the Georgia Strait in 2016 was 3.9 million, meaning this loss represents a decrease of approximately 10 per cent in the coho fishery.

Fisheries and Oceans plans to mitigate the loss by transfering 50,000 coho salmon fry from Puntledge River Hatchery to Big Qualicum Hatchery in the next week. They would be released as smolts in spring, 2018, said Vazeos.

“Puntledge and Big Qualicum fish are available in the same marine fisheries, therefore this will somewhat offset the loss of Qualicum production,” she said.

Engineering staff have also been asked to review alarm, pump and other infrastructure systems. Vazeos noted that hatchery staff “responded very professionally and efficiently under the difficult circumstances.”

No other fish production groups were affected by the power loss.