The very existence of the Sooke Salmon Enhancement Society and the sustainability of local salmon is a tribute to the single-minded vision and tenacity of the late Jack Brooks. Moving to Sooke in the early 50’s as a fish Warden with the Department of Fishery and Oceans, he came to a community when commercial fishing was the life-blood of the community and the fishers and fish trap operators were an economic mainstay of Sooke.
Jack Brooks 1909 - 2001
Jack Brooks observed the decline in local fishing stocks and realized that the fishery that everyone took for granted could disappear. He was relentless in pursuing poachers and polluters and did not make himself popular at a time when many did not take fishing licenses or quotas seriously. He began on his own to salvage Coho fry from creeks that were drying-up in the summer and would release the fry in the water of the upper Sooke – above the potholes. In 1954 he persuaded DFO to construct the fish trap and dam on DeMamiel Creek beside Young Lake that the SSES continues to maintain and operate. Gradually he started to recruit teenagers and local commercial fishers to his efforts. The volunteers were known as the Sooke Conservation Society.
By 1966 efforts had turned to hatching salmon in homemade gravel boxes that were set in Mary Vine Creek. Three of the early volunteers assisting Jack Brooks were Pat Forest, Bill Pedneault and Mel Hull and they continue to this day as volunteers in the Society. In the early days there was much experimentation in fish hatching and the volunteers gradually discovered ways to reduce mortality rates in young salmon. After hatching the alevin were carried by vehicles in five-gallon pails to be released in the upper Sooke as well as DeMamiel, Kirby, Tugwell, Ayum, Muir and Rocky Creeks.
In 1981 the hatchery began operations at its present location on Rocky Creek – just above the confluence of DeMamiel and Rocky. With Capilano troughs that had been discarded by other hatcheries or purchased from donations, the volunteers - now incorporated as the Sooke Salmon Enhancement Society - were able to raise fish to fry size that would have a head start on their release to the wild. The hatchery was of course named the Jack Brooks Hatchery
in recognition of the man who had inspired the efforts of volunteers and contributors. Trevor Morris another DFO employee also came to the aid of the Society and through his efforts they obtained commercial hatching trays from the Sechelt Indian Band.
In the early 1990’s a pump house was constructed below the hatchery to ensure a supply of water in summer months when water levels drop in Rocky Creek.
While the hatchery has supported the enhancement of Coho, Chinook, and Steelhead, primary efforts today are in Chinook production and secondarily Coho. By the 1980’s Chinook had virtually disappeared from the Sooke River and it became necessary to import Nitnat stock to revive the hatchery. Today wild Chinook spawn in great numbers in the Sooke River and wild Coho numbers in the Sooke and its tributaries are far beyond the numbers found in similar sized creeks on the Island. While times and technology have all but ended commercial fishing in Sooke, the community continues to be a premier location for sports fishing for Pacific Salmon. As the volunteers say, “We hatch them. You catch them.”