Salmon strug­gle back to spawn­ing grounds

Okana­gan Na­tion Al­liance work­ing to get re­turn­ing sock­eye past Oliver dam and into Skaha Lake

The Daily Courier - - OKANAGAN - By ME­LANIE EKSAL

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.”

Spe­cial to The Okana­gan Week­end

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.

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