Letter: No need for a hatchery on Kootenay Lake
To The Editor:
Kootenay Lake has had two hatcheries during the last century.
The more notable one was located in Nelson at the base of Cottonwood Falls operating from the early 1900s until about 1962. It was closed after numerous evaluations determined it did little to improve KL fishing. Its primary purpose evolved into stocking local small lakes and became redundant once the Bull River (Wardner) hatchery became operational in the 1960s.
Similar small hatcheries on Arrow, Okanagan, Skaha and Shuswap lakes also were closed due to lack of evidence they contributed to improved fishing. Hatcheries do work for stocking small lakes but they do not work on large lake systems. That explains why there are no BC hatcheries on large lakes and why virtually no trout are stocked in large lakes. Numerous provincial research projects have confirmed that stocking trout in large lakes end up being eaten by the predators.
Hatcheries are required when spawning and or rearing is limited or non-existent. In BC several thousand small lakes are stocked annually with hatchery produced trout because these lakes don’t have much if any spawning habitat.
Kootenay Lake does not need a hatchery because fortunately it has many natural streams that support spawning habitat for rainbow trout, bull trout and kokanee. These same streams provide rearing habitat for rainbows and bull trout.
The Lardeau River is the major spawning system for all 3 species and the only system that produces Gerrard rainbow trout. Spawning habitat at Gerrard is sufficient but the capacity of the river to support young trout is limited. In other words, it’s the river that determines the number of Gerrards produced annually; estimates have ranged from about 30,000-110,000 “smolts” (1–2-year-old juveniles that enter the lake annually).
The reason why trout life history includes rearing in the streams is to grow to a size to avoid predators once they enter the lake. Bull trout juveniles may stay in the streams for up to four years before entering the lake. In other words, small trout/char pay a heavy price if they enter the lake at too small a size.
Kootenay Lake kokanee are not limited because of the Meadow Creek spawning channel and the Lardeau River can produce 0.5-1.2 million spawners per year.
Advocates for a hatchery on Kootenay Lake are well meaning but uninformed.
The current problem on Kootenay Lake is a lack of kokanee that Gerrard Trout and Bull Trout rely on as their food source. The solution for Kootenay Lake is to temporarily reduce trout numbers and simultaneously plant kokanee eggs in the Meadow Creek spawning channel to rebuild the kokanee population. Once this occurs the trout will once again grow to the size the lake is so famous for.
There is no need for a hatchery on Kootenay Lake. Natural trout production isn’t the problem. Lack of kokanee is the problem and solutions are at hand. The government has been too slow to implement the solutions.
Harvey Andrusak, Nelson, BC; Past President BC Wildlife Federation