October 6, 2023
Anyone who lives on the coast should be familiar with the story of salmon and their incredible, mysterious end-of-life journey. This is when salmon make their way—sometimes thousands of kilometres—back to their birthplace to spawn.
Promoting an understanding of how important salmon are, and how to protect them, is one of the fundamental goals of the Powell River Salmon Society (PRSS). This education pillar directs much of the important work the organization does in the qathet region.
PRSS’s education program is an investment in the future, says Manager Shane Dobler. “The end goal is to make sure that there are fish here for the long term.”
Students get immersed in the environment through the organization’s camps and annual fall expo, Assistant Manager Phil Nakatsu adds. “And it changes the way they see the creek. The creek's no longer just somewhere they can splash and play—there's a whole ecosystem that they come to understand.”
The summer camp program, new this year, is providing more opportunities for children to learn.
“We noticed an incredible impact on the children over the summer,” says Education Coordinator Chantal Dunning. “We saw the kids beginning to ask more questions about their environment and notice things around them that they didn't at the start. It's a reminder of just how much they can absorb and how valuable it is to teach children about the importance of a healthy ecosystem at such a young age.”
Salmon are considered a keystone species because they support many other fish, plants, birds, and animals, including humans, with their nutrients. But the future of salmon is threatened, which is why the other pillars of PRSS are salmon enhancement and watershed monitoring. Since 1982 PRSS has been working toward the goal of sustainable salmon stocks in the area.
“Our enhancement work directly benefits the coastal ecosystem and all the people that rely on pacific salmon culturally, economically, and environmentally.”
The organization runs three local facilities, including the Alex Dobler Salmon Centre (named for Shane’s father who designed and was largely responsible for building the facility), the Duck Lake Hatchery (the hub for incubating and rearing juvenile salmon), and the Mill Hatchery (the organization’s headquarters). PRSS releases over a million juvenile salmon onto local watersheds and have thousands returning each fall.
“Though we don’t control what happens in the ocean, our consistent enhancement efforts have shown to closely correlate with improved returns on average over the decades,” says Phil. “A large part of our success is using the data we collect to measure our own methods, to see what works and what doesn’t. After 40 years we have a very efficient and effective enhancement program.”
However, PRSS struggles to be sufficiently funded for the work they do. Although they receive annual funding from Fisheries and Oceans Canada the amount has remained stagnant for many years, despite growing demands on their time and resources.
That’s why, in 2022, the Salmon Preservation Foundation (SPF) was launched. This charity helps to fill some of the gaps government funding leaves, and the additional funding PRSS is able to access through SPF and from community partners like First Credit Union (FCU) is crucial, Phil says.
“It's what we depend on, and without that support from our community sponsors we couldn’t do even half of what we do.”
For a number of years FCU has helped support PRSS’s community engagement and education activities, and in 2023 they provided a $2500 donation, and sponsored a $1500 tent that can be used at community events.
“The work that PRSS is doing to preserve and educate the community about pacific salmon is an inspiring example of community leadership, dedication, and sustainable, strategic thinking,” says Community Impact Manager Caitlin Bryant. “We are grateful to be able to support their mission.”
There are also opportunities for individuals to support the organization’s efforts, including various donation programs. Hundreds of people have the chance to learn and participate at the annual Salmon Education Expo, happening this year from 10:30 am – 1:30 pm on October 21 at the Alex Dobler Salmon Centre.
Learn more at salmonpreservation.org.
Written by Emma Levez Larocque