British Columbia

'A remarkable thing': Salmon fry born from sperm frozen 20 years ago set to be released

Salmon fry, whose origin story begins 20 years ago, are being cared for by biologists in Prince George, B.C., amid a global pandemic.

Biologists feeding salmon adjust to physical distancing practices to care for young fish

Salmon fry born from salmon sperm frozen 20 years ago were ponded on March 27. (Spruce City Wildlife Association/Facebook)

Salmon in B.C. have been through a lot over the years — wildfires, overfishing and the Big Bar landslide that cut off access in the Fraser River, to name a few. But now, a new generation of salmon is entering the world amid a global pandemic. 

Salmon fry, whose origin story begins 20 years ago, are being cared for by biologists in Prince George, B.C.

The fry are the result of salmon sperm that were frozen as what biologist Brian Harvey described as a sort of "genetic insurance policy" for salmon. 

In September 2019, it was announced the frozen sperm would be used to help rebuild endangered salmon populations. 

A total of 10,000 fry were removed from their trays at the end of March where they incubated and are now feeding. Spruce City Wildlife Association vice-president Dustin Snyder said they weigh about 0.88 grams each. 

"They're doing fantastic," Snyder told Radio West host Sarah Penton. 

"It's definitely one of those really remarkable things," Snyder said. "Although we've seen [salmon] populations decline drastically, they're still holding on."

Physical distancing impacting hatchery

While the fish fry are doing well, the people taking care of them have had to adjust their behaviour due to physical distancing practices.

Biologists at the Spruce City Wildlife hatchery are using auto feeders, which were implemented earlier this year, to ensure the salmon fry are fed without having someone onsite all the time. The feeders are filled up twice a day, so one person visits the salmon in the morning and another at night. 

It's quite common for cryopreservation to be used with new technology, but it's extremely rare for it to be used with 20-year-old salmon sperm, said Maureen Ritter, managing director at Canada Cryogenetics Services. (Submitted by Spruce City Wildlife Association)

Community events planned around the release of the fry into the Endako River have been cancelled, so Snyder said there will be only one person per vehicle transporting them to a remote location. 

"There's not going to be the excitement and high five-ing that we were really looking forward to," Snyder said.

With files from Sarah Penton