Salmon struggle back to spawning grounds
Okanagan Nation Alliance working to get returning sockeye past Oliver dam and into Skaha Lake
From Okanagan Falls to Skaha Lake, the waters are coming alive as approximately 6,000 sockeye salmon return to their spawning grounds after a fouryear cycle.
Traditionally, the sockeye have migrated to the McIntyre Dam in Oliver, but the Okanagan Nation Alliance has been working hard to move the salmon up into both Skaha and Okanagan lakes since the opening of the fish hatchery in Penticton four years ago.
“This is our first year of returning fish,” said the ONA’s hatchery equipment and facilities maintenance co-ordinator, Herb Alex. “The first year, we released 1.7 million eggs, so we’re seeing a return of about 30,000 or 40,000.”
While the ONA doesn’t have the exact total yet, the numbers are looking promising with the peak of the salmon’s return being next week.
Their return this year has an exciting turn of events, with the sockeye pushing to get into Okanagan Lake.
“The sockeye want to continue on and move into the upper areas, but they’re blocked by a dam,” explained Howie Wright, the ONA’s fisheries program manager. “It’s part of them wanting to return back, and they try to find new habitat.”
The eggs are released in Shingle Creek and other surrounding areas, and the newly hatched salmon then swim into Skaha Lake.
“This is a reintroduction, because they were here. They were extirpated,” Alex noted.
Working in negotiations, the hatchery is looking to begin moving the fish to Okanagan Lake in the future.
The Okanagan Nation Alliance is working to educate the Okanagan about the presence of sockeye salmon in the area’s wellused lakes and channel through its FinS program — Fish in Schools — which allows students to raise their own salmon from eggs in a tank provided by the hatchery.
Alex wants to remind the community that this time of year is vital to the salmon making their way back to their spawning grounds.
“This is a living river . . . a living system. It’s got vitality and it’s alive and we’re trying to bring that back,” he said.
“Leave them alone. Don’t let the kids throw rocks at them . . . and there is no fishery on them right now because they are spawning.”
Sockeye salmon were spotted at the dam in Penticton this week as they tried to make their way into Okanagan Lake. The Okanagan Nation Alliance at the Penticton Fish Hatchery has begun seeing a return of 6,000 in the Skaha Lake area, with more than 150,000 salmon passing through the Wells Dam in Washington state.