Chief Darren Blaney of Homalco First Nation has been recognized as one of British Columbia’s top 500 business leaders for his role in fisheries recovery and enhancement.
Blaney is serving his fourth term as Chief and has been an elected official since 2003, through which he has furthered development of the Nation’s salmon hatchery in Orford Bay and salmon enhancement activities throughout its lands. For his work, he was recently listed as one of six fisheries and aquaculture leaders in Business In Vancouver magazine’s ‘BC 500’ list.
Homalco received $2.5 million from a private donor to upgrade its salmon hatchery facility in the mid-1990s. Since then, the Nation has worked to improve the facility, including installing a Pelton wheel to cut down on electricity costs, Blaney said in an interview with the Campbell River Mirror.
By enhancing the local salmon fishery, fish populations increased and more grizzly bears returned to the area. This created an opportunity to drive business by developing wildlife and cultural tours to the area. A portion of proceeds from these tours is then reinvested into the hatchery.
“When our guests go to the bear tours, they pay a conservation fee, of which about 15 per cent goes back to the hatchery,” explained Blaney.
Through these investments in the hatchery, the facility has become one of two unlicensed hatcheries in the province to become involved in the Salmon Enhancement Program (SEP), a federal program to conserve vulnerable salmon stocks.
As part of this program, Homalco has recently been part of roundtable discussions with different stakeholders, to determine ways to help rebuild stocks.
“It includes different people, from the sports fishermen, to the resorts, to the logging companies,” said Blaney.
One issue the group is looking at is habitat restoration, not just in streams, but in the ocean as well.
“We’re looking at a blue economy, by re-establishing some kelp beds,” he said. “We can create habitat for the salmon about to come up the river system and for them to have shelter when they’re coming out, so they’re not lost to predation.”
But because kelp also works to sequester carbon dioxide, this work could result in ‘blue carbon’ credits. The plan is for these credits to also be reinvested into the salmon hatchery, he explained.
Blaney hopes the Nation’s work can be used as a model in other locations in the province.
“We have to figure out if we can rebuild the salmon stocks, because they’re in a really perilous state right now,” he said. “But if we can rebuild the salmon stocks, I think we’ll be creating an economy from the salmon we rebuilt. And not only that, it gives us food security as well.”