Contrary to some media reports, the federal government is not closing down all fish hatcheries on the West Coast, but it will close some.
The problem is, no one will know which ones until Ottawa makes the announcement.
The Salmonid Enhancement Program has a total budget of $27 million, from which it has been told it must cut $3 million for fiscal 1997-98. This comes after a summer in which the West Coast commercial fishery caught far fewer salmon than expected.
SEP operates 47 hatcheries and manned spawning channels for all species. It also fertilizes four lakes to enhance sockeye salmon. In addition, there are about 160 public involvement projects, mostly hatcheries, that are funded and operated through volunteer efforts, like the Birkenhead hatchery.
Reductions in federal funding for habitat restoration projects and funding and technical support for public involvement projects are not being considered.
But of the 51 hatcheries, channels and lake fertilization projects SEP operates, 28 have been identified as the weakest in terms of economic performance. It is from those 28 that the $3 million will be cut. Among those 28 are the Tenderfoot Creek hatchery in Squamish.
The current budget for the 28 projects totals $7.66 million. The Tenderfoot hatchery costs $521,000 annually to run. The most expensive of the 28 hatcheries is the Kitimat River hatchery, which has a budget of $845,000.
"We’ve looked at all projects, developed a list and given it to the minister," says Ted Perry of the Department of Fisheries.
"We’re hoping for a decision in a month or two."
"The Tenderfoot hatchery was one of the most unlikely to be closed, as of the last list I saw," says Dave Celli of the hatchery. "But I don’t know if it was the list."
SEP produces about 9 million adult salmon annually, of which approximately 5 million are caught in Canada. This accounts for 10-20 per cent of the annual catch. The remaining 80-90 per cent is from Canadian wild stocks or U.S. sources.
After the $3 million cut, SEP expects to produce about 8.5 million salmon per year.