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CRD land purchase in Sooke a ‘lifeblood’ for salmon

Sooke’s salmon stocks have a better chance of survival thanks to a $1.2-million land purchase by the Capital Regional District, volunteers say.
chinook salmon
About 750 to 1,000 adult chinook return every year to Pemberton Pool.

Sooke’s salmon stocks have a better chance of survival thanks to a $1.2-million land purchase by the Capital Regional District, volunteers say.

The two riverfront lots at 2540 and 2548 Sooke River Road provide the only access to “Pemberton Pool,” an important habitat for chinook salmon, according to the Sooke Salmon Enhancement Society.

“It’s a very, very important location on the river,” the society’s president, Robert Gamache, said.

The society collects all of its chinook brood stocks for the Jack Brooks Hatchery at Pemberton Pool, which has about 750 to 1,000 adult chinook return every year, Gamache said.

For decades, it has been able to do so because the family that owns the properties allowed access.

“They have always been very kind to us and allowed us access to their property,” Gamache said. “When the property went up for sale, we were worried that if it went to private hands, it may diminish our potential to access the site.”

The society plans to develop infrastructure on the site, such as holding tanks, he said. The non-profit society produces about 750,000 fish every year for enhancement purposes in the Sooke River.

Mike Hicks, CRD regional parks committee chairman, said the 6.47 hectares will be designated parkland.

“Those lands are going to make a tremendous park. There’s 2,000 feet of river frontage virtually adjoining the Galloping Goose, the Sooke River, the old-growth forest, a beautiful meadow,” Hicks said. “But that’s not the reason we bought it.”

Hicks said the river is intrinsic to the CRD, as a source for Greater Victoria’s drinking water, and called Pemberton Pool the “lifeblood” of the Sooke Salmon Enhancement Society.

As someone with a personal interest in salmon, he said the decision made him emotional.

“I’ve been a fishing guide over 50 years now, so I’ve got to be one of the oldest on the coast. For me personally, this is the greatest thing I’ve done in this position,” he said.

“The enhancement society will have access forever. If we don’t lose the salmon to climate change and global warming, this will give [the salmon] a chance.”

Hicks said the acquisition was made with the support of the T’Souke Nation, which may become a partner in the land. T’Souke Chief Gordon Planes was not available for an interview Monday.

There will be no public access to the site for at least a year, Hicks said. How the salmon will be protected from the potential influx of visitors has not yet been determined, but Gamache said he recommended limiting access to the park to foot traffic.

The parkland was purchased with funds from the CRD’s regional parks land acquisition fund. The fund recently received a boost, thanks to the $3.13-million sale to B.C. Hydro of surplus land in a potential flood inundation zone in Jordan River.

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Sooke River parkland acquisition