August 17, 2015 - 6:30 PM
PENTICTON - Years of hard work and dedication by the Okanagan Nation Alliance to re-establish the Okanagan sockeye has resulted in a new and emerging interior fishery, as well as a new business opportunity for local First Nations.
The Alliance reintroduced sockeye fry into Skaha Lake in 2003, entering into cooperative water sharing agreements with governments and other stakeholders, improving river habitat for fish over the past decade.
The result of that work has been the establishment of an inland fishery that models Okanagan Nation principles and values, while emulating modern models of community support agriculture models where consumers are provided with a “hands on” approach to fishing, says Okanagan Nations Alliance Biologist Richard Bussanich.
Bussanich says the alliance began moving limited quantities of fish to feed local markets when supplies allow, while at the same time increasing consumer awareness about the product and raise awareness of the salmon recovery program.
“It’s big picture thinking at a local level,” he says.
The initiative also created an opportunity for the Alliance to market their catch through the creation of the "Okanagan Select” brand.
The alliance began marketing their fish to well-known local chefs, leveraging other end users to expand the reach of their product locally.
The fishery continues to grow, says Bussanich, noting the alliance has agreements with other B.C. tribes to supply sockeye during years like this, when supply isn’t plentiful. There is also an inventory of Okanagan Select smoked and canned product that can be sold. Sales have increased from $3,000 annually during the first year of sales in 2011 to $180,000 last year.
Bussanich says the Alliance sells the brand based on such things as sustainability, quality and the application of First Nations’ culture and ideals to the harvesting of the product.
For example, the Alliance relies on traditional selective fishing methods, using seine, trap and dip net methods to harvest salmon.
“Chefs love it. It’s an exceptional fish, recognized for its meat and caviar. It’s been very well received, it’s an inland fishery, ‘salmon in the desert.’” he says.
When fish is available locally, generally through August, consumers can have fresh sockeye from the lake to the table in less than 24 hours.
Okanagan Select salmon is available through the Summerland Sunday Market, Saddlehorn Specialty Meats, Penticton Farmers Market, Whole Foods, Snowy Mountain Market, the Grist Mill in Keremeos and the Watermark Resort in Osoyoos.
The product is also available at Choices Market in Kelowna, with further market expansion up the valley planned for the future.
All sales from Okanagan Select products are re-invested in enhancement, restoration, mitigation, and conservation of native fish and aquatic resources within the Okanagan Basin.
“I think it’s important to recognize our retailers who support slow food and sustainability,” Okanagan Select Sales Manager Sandy Terbasket says.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015