BC Corrections has had an extensive history here in Maple Ridge. The Allco Hatchery inmate work program is one of many success stories. This history has been relayed by Mr. Jim Jose, a correctional officer who started his career at Corrections in 1957.
Mr. Jose was transferred to the Alouette River Unit in 1978 when the correctional facility at Cedar Lake Camp was closed. Soon after Mr. Jose arrived at ARCC, it became apparent that the established work program did not offer any self-gratification for the inmates and productivity was very low. With a river running through the site at ARCC, Mr. Jose saw that there was great potential for a fisheries program that would offer both high levels of productivity and self-fulfillment for the inmates.
The initial development of the Fisheries program took approximately five months of prodding the Federal Fisheries Department. The final agreement was struck between the parties to use inmate labour and fisheries biologists for the rearing of salmonids, and the Allco Hatchery Inmate Work Project was born.
The first step was to clear the site for the hatchery. Inmates removed the tall trees which were transported up to Pine Ridge Camp to be milled and returned to ARU to construct the original troughs and the earthen ponds.
The first year of hatchery production saw 50,000 chum eggs and 50,000 coho eggs incubated at the hatchery. The hatchery showed good survival rates and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were pleased with the conduct of the inmates and the general attitude and enthusiasm of the staff. Consequently, the following year the program was expanded to eight rearing troughs and three 50,000 capacity incubators along with 100,000 chum.
During this time, the Burnett Road and Gun Club were experiencing security problems at their New Westminster facility. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans asked if the Allco hatchery could take over the incubation and rearing of the coho for the Burnett River. This was agreed to and the increase in production amounted to an additional 50,000 coho per year.
The following year, Mr. Jose contacted the Provincial Ministry of Fish and Wildlife Branch who sent Dr. Dave Narver to view the facility. Subsequently, Allco hatchery was provided with 8,900 steelhead fry to rear in the two new earthen ponds that had been constructed in partnership with the Operating Engineers.
The original water source for the hatchery was located close to the present day Rivers Heritage Centre. The hatchery began experiencing fish losses due to the iron content in the water. Mr. Jose began searching for other sites for a water source, which was located near the correctional centre and a new well was drilled.
In 1982, to further expand the program at ARCC and to gain hands-on knowledge of trout rearing, Mr. Jose began a project at Alouette Lake. There was an obvious need for additional sport fishery trout and with the cooperation of Boulder Bay Correctional Centre, a trout rearing program was established with floating pens at the Boulder Bay site.
This program gave Corrections the necessary experience to later develop a program on Sayers Lake through the cooperation of the Fish and Wildlife Branch and personnel at the Fraser Valley Trout Hatchery (Freshwater Fisheries Society). Rearing pens were established on Sayers Lake, rearing trout for release throughout the province.
During the period between 1982 and 1983, the Mike Creek water source for the Allco Hatchery was developed. This involved an eight-inch gravity fed water line and the Allco Hatchery was expanded.
Fraser Valley Trout Hatchery made an agreement with the Pacific Vocational Institute for the welding classes at PVI to build 25 aluminum rearing troughs for use at the ARCC hatchery and the hatchery in Duncan, BC. When this program at PVI ended, a similar agreement was reached with the Lower Mainland Regional Correctional Centre (Oakalla) who built 12 additional Capilano rearing troughs. Over the years, over 180 of these troughs were constructed through inmate labour at Oakalla.
Mr. Jose saw the potential for additional rearing ponds on the west side of the Alouette River, adjacent to ARCC. A bridge was built across the river and 100,000 capacity rearing channel was constructed. During the initial year of this facility, 20,000 rainbow trout were reared. The project was discontinued after several years of rearing trout, but the old ponds can still be seen today.
In 1983, Mr. Jose made contact with Mr. Roos, a Director of the International Salmon Commission, to ask for permission for the Allco Hatchery to rear pink salmon. Mr. Roos agreed that it would be a worthwhile project. Mr. Jose contacted Save the Salmon for funds to carry out this initiative and, subsequently, 800,000 pink eggs from the Harrison River were transferred to the Alouette. By 1985, 3,000 pink salmon returned to the Alouette River, a species that had been wiped out in 1959.
Around this same time a second hatchery, today referred to as the “Upper Hatchery,” was built north of the Correctional Centre. An independent water source to supply this hatchery was located a short distance up the BC Hydro road and water was transported through wooden pipes to the hatchery. Shortly afterward, an additional water source was located on the ARCC site and a well was drilled.
In 1982, the Save the Salmon Foundation contacted Mr. Jose regarding the construction of the Bell Irving Hatchery on Kanaka Creek. The Allco Hatchery crew and other inmates from ARCC were deployed to construct this hatchery. They were also involved in the construction the fish fence at 240th Street the following year. One inmate was given a temporary absence to allow him to remain at the fish fence during spawning season. This inmate was housed in a trailer on-site to maintain security and control of the project.
In the mid-1980’s, the program at Boulder Bay was shut down due to problems encountered with the maintenance of the program by the young men of Boulder Bay Camp and the inconsistent shift patterns of the staff.
A new program was developed on the east side of Alouette Lake in 1987 after an agreement being reached with the province to rear trout for the sports fishery. This became known as the Bell Cor Net Pens; “Bell” for the surname of the BC Hydro employee who assisted with the project, and “Cor” for Corrections. These pens were originally located south of the present day site at a location known as Tabbins Landing. Unfortunately, the site was broken apart by a tremendous storm and parts of the facility were carried down the lake to rest just before the dam. The facility was re-built at the present site in the mid-1990’s.
The Bell Cor Net Pens no longer rear trout, but assist with the Fertilization Project on the lake. Each week from March through October, inmates and corrections staff distribute the fertilization from the north basin of the lake to the south basin lake, under the direction of the Ministry of Environment.
The Allco Hatchery was in jeopardy of closing in 2002 due to the closure of the Alouette River Correctional Centre with government cutbacks. Mr. Bob Riches became the new Director of the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre during this transition and saw the benefit of the hatchery. The community rallied successfully to save the hatchery. Currently, inmates are brought from Fraser Regional Correctional Centre seven days a week to oversee the fish production.
Over the past thirty-four years, the Allco Hatchery Inmate Work Program have reared over 45 million fish for release in the Alouette and other watersheds. Today, the hatchery is used to provide chum fry and eggs to other communities and SEP hatcheries in the Lower Mainland.