British Columbia

Whopper of a salmon caught in B.C. all part of conservation program

The Percy Walkus Hatchery catches the big fish as part of its conservation program.

Percy Walkus Hatchery catches fish as part of its conservation program

Ted Walkus, left, helps hold a giant salmon caught in B.C.'s Wannock River last month as part of a hatchery's conservation program. (Percy Walkus Hatchery)

Volunteer fishermen with a hatchery in central B.C. found themselves with one big salmon last month.

The Percy Walkus Hatchery caught the massive chinook along the Wannock River, about 80 kilometres southwest of Bella Coola. 

It weighed more than 50 pounds.

Walkus said the fish weighed well over 50 pounds. (Percy Walkus Hatchery)

It was one of 94 salmon caught as part of an "egg take" — a conservation program that ensures the strongest chinook gene pool survives.

Volunteers harvest the semen — known as milt — along with eggs from the strongest broodstock fish, which are fertilized and planted in the nearby hatchery.

The embryos are released once they've grown to about five grams.

Ted Walkus, one of the hereditary chiefs of the nearby Wuikinuxv First Nation, helps with the egg take.

Walkus said the salmon could be left to spawn naturally, but controlling the breeding process in the hatchery ensures survival — which he says is crucial, considering chinook die after they spawn.

Volunteers use gill nets to find the biggest, healthiest broodstock fish that are ideal for breeding. (Percy Walkus Hatchery)

"If you catch a 60-pound salmon and you keep it without breeding, that part of the gene pool eventually gets wiped out," he said Tuesday.

The fish are caught so their milt or semen and their eggs can be harvested for breeding. (Percy Walkus Hatchery/Supplied)

Walkus said fish caught in the egg takes eventually die, but they're taken back to the community to be smoked and preserved.

"It was a win-win situation, that fish," Walkus said Tuesday. "We got the milt out of that big male, and the fish went back to our community for winter food."

This particular fish was bred in a previous egg take years ago. It was caught this year to be bred, keeping the gene pool alive. (Percy Walkus Hatchery)

He said there are only two river systems left in North America that produce such big chinook: the Wannock River and the Kitsumkalum River, near Terrace.

The strongest gene pool needs to be preserved, Walkus said, "so it's there for our grandchildren and their grandchildren."

"We have the joy of catching them, but even more so, the joy of releasing them and knowing they're going to go back and spawn and do what they're meant to do."

With files from CBC Vancouver News at 6