BC CAHS exists to support healthy aquatic ecosystems and thereby promote economic stability, cultural values and environmental integrity in coastal communities.

The BC Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences Society is proposing to be the anchor tenant in the new Campbell River waterfront development. 

Dr. Jim Powell, CEO of the  Society, proposes a ‘Salmon Centre of Excellence’ for the site. 

“Here we are in the Salmon Capital of the world,” explains Jim. “And everyone here has an interest and opinion on salmon. We have First Nations groups, who are ‘People of the salmon.’ Their lives went with the rhythm of the salmon. Very similar with commercial fishers who would set out to reap that bounty. And similar to recreational fishers who are a huge contributor to the economy of the area. And then you get people retiring who love to fish and many put their time into enhancement facilities. Then, arguably, Campbell River’s biggest employer is salmon farming. You get all these interests together it’s quite the melting pot.” 

Dr. Jim Powell, PhD – CEO of BC Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences Society

“The needs of all these stakeholders and beneficiaries have to be taken into account when talking about salmon resources,” he continues. “And I don’t think one entity, whether provincial, federal or any sort of government, can handle all the good work that needs to be done. So the Salmon Centre of Excellence is just that. It’s focused on salmon, but also works with shellfish and other environmental issues around ocean productivity. Really, the goal of Salmon Centre of Excellence is to put more salmon back in the water.” 

The Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences is a fisheries and aquaculture research and diagnostic laboratory. They have a state of the art molecular and classical lab that does diagnostics on fish and shellfish. The CAHS work on the larger pictures of ecology and productivity in the ocean environment.  

“The CHAS is multifaceted,” says Dr. Powell, “We are a non-profit society because we have stakeholders, not shareholders. There is no one pulling our strings. We operate completely independently on a fee-for-service basis so we aren’t reliant on government handouts or significant donors. We’ve been in business over 12 years and are a model that works. Whatever arrives at the door we do our diagnostics on it and you get the results back. You don’t tell us what to do, we do what we need to do.”   

CHAS clients are anyone who is a stakeholder in salmon, whether that is industrial, government or other non-profits. They do work with the CR Salmon Foundation, the Pacific Salmon Foundation and with all the major fish producers. Their big clients are the DFO and the Province of BC. It’s a rather broad-spectrum in that they serve a variety of needs for the public interest as a 3rd party without a stake in the outcome.  

Dr. Powell sees a huge need for their work. “People all the time are asking, ‘What is the state of ocean?’ Or, in past years, ‘Why am I not seeing many Tyee’s?’ or ‘How can we put more fish back in the water?’ and that’s exactly what we want to address,” he says.   

There are a couple programs Dr. Powell and his team are especially proud of. “One of our longest running programs is the Plankton Monitoring Program. It’s really simple,” he says. “We go out and collect just water samples; just plankton. We look at them in the lab for the assemblage of zooplankton, the feed for salmon that will released from the hatchery. We coordinate with the DFO to tell them, ‘The groceries are in the water,’ and that it’s probably time to release the fish.” 

While release isn’t set by it, all do feel there is a better chance of early ocean survival if those fish have food in there bellies when they head out. “We’ve been doing that 12 years now and it’s really showing promise,” says Dr. Powell. They now we want to expand the program down to the Oyster River so there is data not only for the Discovery Passage but also the Oyster River estuary. “We are extremely proud of this program because it not only brings together all the partners, but also looks at primary ocean productivity and early marine survival of those smolts.” 

The work is about taking a science-based approach to
helping people put more salmon back in the water.

Another longstanding program they are proud of is looking at sea lice on wild fish caught in different areas; i.e. those that have and those that don’t have salmon farms. They also work with the farmers to do a variety of studies on sea lice on their fish. 

“We’re starting to get a really good picture of where this is going,” says Jim. “Depending on the oceanic conditions the wild fish have, or don’t have, different types of lice on them. It’s really not a factor of where they are caught. It looks more like a case of, ‘What was last years’ migration of salmon from the Alaska waters and the oceanic temperatures?’ We’re still working on statistical validation, though it appears the oceanic conditions are more of an influence then anything we can do.”  

For more information on the work of the BC Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences Society visit www.cahs-bc.ca. They can be reached by phone at 250.286.6102. 

Cermaq Canada is a BC salmon farming company operating in Vancouver Island coastal communities. Cermaq Canada is sponsoring a series of profiles of Young Entrepreneurs on North Vancouver Island 

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