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Members of the Tofino Salmon Enhancement Society work on a tributary of the remote Bedwell River.Doug Palfrey

A small group of volunteers that has been working to restore some Vancouver Island salmon rivers that are so remote they can only be accessed by horseback may have reached the end of the road.

Doug Palfrey, the driving force behind the Tofino Salmon Enhancement Society (TSES) for nearly 30 years, sent a short e-mail to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) this week announcing that his group can't continue saving endangered Chinook stocks in Clayoquot Sound. Mr. Palfrey wrote that $7,000 annual funding under DFO's Salmonid Enhancement Program (SEP) simply isn't enough.

"The Directors of Tofino Salmon Enhancement Society have no option but to suspend all Chinook enhancement in Clayoquot Sound," he wrote.

"I've got 34 years [working on salmon restoration] in Clayoquot Sound," Mr. Palfrey said in an interview. "That's a tough thing to do, walk away from that."

He said three rivers – the Cypre, Bedwell and Tranquil – were supposed to be targeted for Chinook restoration work this year, but unless the government provides adequate funding none of those projects will go ahead. He said the group needs $50,000.

"I'm just hoping SEP comes to their senses and I can move forward with a plan. I'd like to work on all three systems, but with $7,000 that's not realistic," Mr. Palfrey said. "That keeps the doors of the hatchery open. By the time you buy your fish food and insure your old rotten truck, pay the hydro, it's gone."

DFO was unable to provide a spokesperson to discuss the situation, but in an e-mail said the government "recognizes the long-standing work and dedication of the Tofino Salmon Enhancement Society," and is "working on addressing the concerns" of the society.

The TSES is a community organization run by volunteers. The funding it gets under SEP is used to pay some part-time employees and to cover operating expenses, which are considerable because many of the rivers can't be reached by roads. On some rivers, the volunteers have to transport all their gear on horseback.

Mr. Palfrey said the budget hasn't increased in 20 years, while inflation and operating costs have steadily risen. He said the group could have limped along with the existing funding, "but at some point you have to make a stand to make things better."

He said Chinook stocks in Clayoquot Sound were on the edge of disappearing when his group first started restoration projects in the early 1990s, focusing on a small number of rivers each year.

Only about 40 Chinook spawned in the Bedwell River the year the group started work. By 2013, the run had grown to 600 salmon. But it dropped to 289 last year after the group stopped work on the Bedwell and moved on to another river.

The Tranquil River had a run of about 100 Chinook when salmon enhancement work began, and by 2001 it had built up to 2,100 spawners. But Mr. Palfrey said after the volunteers moved on from the Tranquil to work on the Cypre River, Tranquil stocks began to fall again. He said those results show that enhancement efforts can rebuild stocks, but also that that work has to continue.

Lochie MacKenzie, owner and head guide at Tofino Fish Guides, said the work being done by Mr. Palfrey's group is vital to the environmental health of Clayquot Sound and to tourism in the area.

"What his hatchery is able to do with limited funding is very impressive," Mr. MacKenzie said. "He has a lot of community support … but the funding he gets from the department of Fisheries is laughable."

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