Toboggan Creek Fish Hatchery Near Smithers Facing Uncertain Future

The Toboggan Creek Fish Hatchery near Smithers is facing a funding crisis, that's threatening the survival of the 32-year-old facility.

A news conference was held in Smithers Thursday, hosted by Skeena-Bulkley Valley New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen, to draw attention to the dire situation facing the hatchery.

Cullen says "we've seen a slow but steady degrading of what money comes our way -- I think part of what our effort here today is to help better inform the public of how critical this infrastructure is; that if we make ourselves intentionally blind when managing this fishery, it will only lead to bad decisions further down the line and economic impacts of this ripple out; if you lose your wild salmon, the cultural impacts are obvious, the social impacts of people wanting to live here and stay here as well as the economics."

The news conference was attended by Hatchery manager Mike O'Neill and director Bob Haslett, as well as a couple of local business people (Peter Krause of McBike & Sport and Alex Bussmann of Oscar's Source for Adventure) who rely on the recreational fishing industry.

Manager Mike O'Neill, who's been with Toboggan Creek since it opened in 1985, says with climate change drastically affecting fishing stocks in the Skeena-Bulkley system, it's more important than ever that salmon enhancement programs remain in place.

Yet he says federal funding has fallen far short of what's needed to keep the hatchery viable.  

And with his retirement just over a year away, he's worried that the hatchery won't survive.

"Last year we lost 30 per cent of the stock pre-spawn, because the water was so hot that the fish died, or were brain-damaged basically;  so if you quit enhancing that stock and keeping it viable, it wouldn't be there;  when you get a stock that's that endangered, history shows that you can lose a whole fishery," he said.

O'Neill says the hatchery's funding budget has remained steady at about $155,000 a year for over a quarter a century, despite rapidly rising costs.

He says they'd need about a 50-per cent increase to remain viable.