Abegweit First Nation's fish hatchery celebrates releasing over a million fish to Island streams
Scotchfort facility has been releasing Indigenous fish species since 2012
The fish hatchery at Abegweit First Nation, P.E.I. is celebrating an important milestone: it has now released more than one million fish into Island streams.
Since 2012, the facility on the reserve at Scotchfort has been raising Indigenous fish species like salmon and brook trout. Those juvenile fish are then released to support the recreational fishery — or replenish streams affected by fish kills.
For Todd Knockwood, assistant manager for the Abegweit Biodiversity Enhancement Hatchery, the milestone means a lot.
"We really, really, really are extremely happy that we have over a million fish released here on Prince Edward Island," he said.
"We love that we got to rebuild the stocks that everybody's been taking, and we've been taking, to replenish Mother Earth."
The process involves taking a couple dozen brood stock from select Island rivers in the fall. Females usually have 800-1000 eggs per pound. Those are spawned at the hatchery, then put in incubators until they hatch at about six months old. Then, they get returned to the same waterways their parents came from.
"I'm extremely happy for everything we do," said Knockwood, who said a highlight for him is the hatchery's Fish Friends program. The program provides about 200 young salmon to 22 Island schools, so students can watch the fish grow before they are released.
"So they get to experience what it is of seeing them grow and everything and what it means to keep our rivers and streams clean. And always happy that they get to see them grow, hatch, grow, put back into the streams. And we love that. And to me, it's extremely gratifying that we took part in Mother Nature of building up these rivers and streams."
Trout and salmon
The hatchery currently supplies four Island rivers with brook trout, and two with Atlantic salmon.
Knockwood said it costs about $250,000 per year to run the program and facility. Of that, $55,000 is funded annually by the provincial government.
Rosie MacFarlane, freshwater fisheries biologist for the province, said the work of the hatchery is of immense value.
"It's super important," said MacFarlane. "Without them producing the fish, we would not have any to stock."
She said there used to be a federally-run hatchery on P.E.I., but eventually it closed — and no one was doing the work, until Abegweit First Nation stepped up.
"That one million fish milestone is huge considering how they started from nothing," said MacFarlane. "They had to build a hatchery from scratch and they had to get people trained and get up to speed and they've done a great job."
'May we see a million more'
She said the recreational fishery is worth at least $4 million annually on P.E.I., with at least 10,000 licensed anglers every year — that number reached 12,000 in recent years.
MacFarlane said the rivers that are stocked with juvenile fish from the hatchery are the ones that tend to be busiest during angling season.
"It's been really nice to watch the hatchery as it's gotten to this point," said MacFarlane. "And congratulations to them on reaching that one million fish milestone. And may we see a million more."
Knockwood said his small team would like to do more outreach, and supply additional streams — but would need more funding to do that. He said volunteers, or donations to the program, are always welcome.
He'd also like to see the facility expand to include a greenhouse that uses fish waste as fertilizer, and helps make traditional Indigenous herbs and medicines, locally grown, accessible to his community. .
"Native medicines … that's a dying art," said Knockwood.
"We want more of our elders to be able to be involved in it, to be able to show us what are all the natural medicines on the Island here. Instead of going out into the wild and looking for as much as they can, if we could do it out of a greenhouse, out of our own spot, it would be perfect."