Gary Kozub has fond memories of teaching local children about kokanee salmon.
The longtime Lake Country resident pioneered a fish incubator project on a small creek in the George Mitchell Wildlife Preserve and was heavily involved with bolstering the salmon population for 18 years.
So when one of the preserve’s two metal incubators was vandalized earlier this month, he was beside himself.
“I’m just so upset that someone would damage the ones we have,” he said. “(They used to be made out of wood and we had) to rebuild them every couple years because they would rot out in the ground.”
Back when he started, Gary would take the fry up to Davidson Elementary school every year.
“I’d hit three or four classrooms and I’d talk to the kids about what the fish and game club does,” he said.
It teaches kids the cycle of life, Gary said. As the fish die, their bodies feed the insects that later feed the fry.
“Every fall we’d go in there and strip kokanee eggs out of Vernon Creek), fertilize them and stick them in incubators,” he said. “I cannot believe someone would do that, especially since we worked so hard to put these (together.) When we started there was no kokanee fishing in Wood Lake.”
For the last few years, the incubators have not been used, but Gary said the last salmon population numbers increased from their original numbers and it’s not just him who helped build their presence.
The Kozub family have been stewards of the fish, as Gary’s whole family has helped him with the salmon project over the years.
“For someone to go in there and destroy something that took 18 years (to build)…if the kokanee population was to ever drop again and if we started taking eggs again, I don’t know what we’d do,” he said.
“It’s just sick. I could not believe it, that someone would do that.”
His personal connection to the salmon started after he ended his military career and his father, who was president of the Oceola Fish and Game Club, got him involved.
“I wanted to learn, so I read what I could and I’d walk the creek and watch what the fish were doing,” Gary said.
In spawning season, he’d put his hand in the creek and watch the salmon brush against him.
“It’s amazing, it’s so neat what these fish do and they would come up at night and there (were so many) you could walk on top of them.”
In the summers, he would give tours to Lake Country Cubs and Scouts.
Nick Kozub, Gary’s nephew, has been the president of the Oceola Fish and Game Club for the last year.
Nick said damage was done to a viewing platform in the wildlife preserve about seven or eight years ago, and every once in a while people will squat in the park, but overall it’s been quiet.
Upon biologist requests, they haven’t incubated eggs in the last four years to see how the fish survive naturally, he said, but they were at one time crucial for stocking Wood Lake.
“When this first started we were lucky to have 700 fish come up the creek…last year was 33,000,” he said.
“It would be nice to catch (the vandals), so we can educate them, for them to do something like this, I don’t think they realize what this did to our community. To have that kokanee stock in Wood Lake, local anglers, out of town anglers come to town just for these fish.”
The incubator was built by volunteers, and Nick said a local plumber and metal shop have already stepped up to donate time and supplies.
Even if the incubators are not used right now, he would like them to be used for educational purpose.
“Everything lives and dies, even the deaths contribute to the nutrition of the waters…we need to keep our water systems clear and clean,” he said.
The small creek needs work, so instead of donations, he asked for volunteers to help the club clean the creek this summer.
“On Dec. 2, Lake Country RCMP received a report of a mischief discovered at the Winfield Creek Wildlife Habitat Preserve on Bottom Wood Lake Road,” said RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey in an emailed statement.
“Police were told that an unknown person or persons gained entry into a fenced compound and caused damage to an inactive fish incubation and spawning system being stored on the multi-acre property.”
The property representatives, who estimate the damages caused to be $1,000, have been unable to determine exactly when the vandalism would have occurred. Anyone with any additional information is asked to contact the Lake Country RCMP detachment at 250-766-2288 and cite police file 2018-74117.