The Toboggan Creek Fish Hatchery near Smithers are asking anglers and First Nations to keep an eye on their chinook and coho catch this season.

Manager Mike O’Neill says you can collect the heads of the hatchery fish with a clipped adipose fin and then send them to the hatchery or local fishing shop in Smithers or Houston.

(The adipose fin is a small fin found on the back of the fish.)

With the season now open for chinook and coho, O’Neill says this year’s contest is on.

He says those that send in the heads are up for several prizes including $250 for both First Nations and anglers.

(Last years winners are Francis Alex from Hazelton, and Tim Hick from Williams Lake)

“All the heads that are collected – whether it’s in Alaska, or BC in the ocean or BC in the Skeena – that data is all compiled and then the DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) can determine exploitation rates and abundance.”

O’Neill says the hatchery usually releases 35,000 cohos and 15-20,000 Chinook each year into the Skeena watershed. But with federal funding remaining stagnant over the years, O’Neil announced early this year the hatchery is under threat of closing.

“We used to raise 150,000 smolts and now we’re raising 50,000,” says O’Neill.

“We’re on the verge of having no data to manage a billion dollar fishery that’s so valuable as a food source to everybody,” said O’Niell back in January.

The season will close again for chinook on August 15th in the Skeena watershed. Harvesting for sockeye will also remain closed on the entire Skeena watershed for the rest of the season.

“Chinook aren’t doing very well; that’s an ocean exploitation issue. They’re mixed up in the north Pacific with million of Columbia river chinook at they’re getting harvested at the same rate.”

He says as one of the of the last hatcheries in the area, they’re continuing to hold on.