British Columbia

Over 220,000 young Chinook to be released to help B.C.'s endangered orcas

It's a project started by a group of B.C fishermen that's expected to turn big results in a few years time.

Anglers' coalition hopes the project will increase food certainty for the 78 remaining resident orcas

More than 98 percent of the diet of southern resident killer whales is Chinook salmon, according to a 2016 study. (Vancouver Aquarium/NOAA/Jamie Lusch)

It's a project started by a group of B.C fishermen that could produce big results in just a few years.

By the end of May, the first batch of around 220,000 young Chinook salmon will be released into the ocean to help feed B.C.'s endangered orcas.

The project, long in the works, is privately funded and was approved by the federal government last year. It involved catching wild fish and facilitating their reproduction in a hatchery — and now the smolts are set to be released off the docks of the Sooke Harbour Resort and Marina.

"It's a win-win for everyone," said Christopher Bos, president of the South Vancouver Island Angler's Coalition. 

"The community coming together to do something that the government can't afford — to help an endangered species find food certainty — and to benefit a community that relies on the business of recreational fishing. And for First Nations to be able to feed themselves with fish that is part of their heritage."

In a few days, over two hundred thousand young Chinook salmon will be released into the ocean to help feed endangered B.C orcas. (South Vancouver Island Angler's Coalition)

Expected to be eaten in three years

There are only about 78 orcas remaining in the J, K, and L-pods that travel up and down the West Coast and despite a number of births, the population has been struggling in recent years.

According to a study released earlier in 2016, more than 98 per cent of the orcas' summer diet is Chinook salmon, a species that is also struggling along many areas of the West Coast.

"They will come back in three years as large adult salmon and be present in the Juan de Fuca strait at a time when the killer whales are looking for preferred prey species ... and in the key pre-winter feeding period when they need to put on weight going into their food uncertainty during the winter months," said Bos.

Only about 5,000 of the 220,000 Chinook released this year are expected to survive to maturity. The effectiveness of the project, which will cost $85,000 this first year, will be will be monitored through the tagging of fish and analyzing of orca scat.

"We're not trying to get government funding because we don't think it's right that it's on the government's shoulders to do this," said Bos.

"We think this is something that's got so much benefit to the community. To see the killer whales coming back, this is a really good cause for us to keep working with the community to get that to happen."

With files from Natasha Frakes