More than 100K sockeye should soon be back in south Okanagan lakes - InfoNews

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More than 100K sockeye should soon be back in south Okanagan lakes

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July 18, 2020 - 12:04 PM

Four years after they started their journey from the south Okanagan to the Pacific Ocean, more than 100,000 Okanagan sockeye salmon could soon be back in Osoyoos and Skaha Lakes following their 1,000-kilometre journey from the sea.

As of July 11, 62,517 Okanagan sockeye salmon had passed through Wells Dam on the Columbia River, roughly 150 kilometres south of Osoyoos, with as many as 15,000 salmon passing through in a single day. While there are many variables, the salmon's journey back to the Okanagan lakes where they were born should be complete by the end of this month.

Okanagan Nation Alliance fisheries program manager Howie Wright told iNFOnews.ca it's estimated between 190,000 to 220,000 will make it over Wells Dam and somewhere between 40 to 70 per cent of these fish will arrive back in Osoyoos and Skaha Lakes. This means the lakes could have as many as 150,000 Okanagan sockeye swimming in them soon.

The fact there are salmon in the lakes at all is due to conservation work done by the Okanagan Nation Alliance in collaboration with the federal and provincial governments over the last few decades. In the 1990s as few as 2,500 Okanagan sockeye would make it back to the southern Interior.

"It's good to see this," Howie said. "(Aboriginal) people have the ability to go out and fish again."

The salmon currently swimming upstream in the Okanagan River in northern Washington State started their lives four ago in the tributaries of Osoyoos and Skaha Lakes. From here they swam south in the Okanagan River through northern Washington, turned west into the Columbia River and out to the Pacific Ocean. After two years at sea the sockeye head back to the mouth of the Columbia River, roughly 150 kilometres north-west of Portland, Oregon, before starting the journey back home.

It's estimated 290,000 sockeye started the journey from the mouth of the Columbia River, an increase from the 200,000 first thought. Forecasting how many will make it back to the southern Okanagan is no easy feat.

"There'll be a certain amount that makes it to Canada and a certain amount that stay in the Columbia River," Wright said. "The reason for that is all river temperature-dependent."

Sockeye will stop migrating when the water temperature reaches 22 C. Currently, the water in the Okanagan River in the U.S. is 17 C.

"This year it appears it's a cooler summer so the fish will continue migrating," Howie said.

However, the salmon won't venture further than Osoyoos and Skaha Lakes although a fish ladder does now allow salmon to pass through the Penticton dam and into Okanagan Lake.

The number of Okanagan sockeye salmon returning appears to be on par with the 10-year average, and should allow for plenty of fishing. 

Currently, food fishing is allowed for Syilx Okanagan members only but as numbers look good, the lakes are likely to open to recreational and commercial fishing. Howie said the Alliance had just started discussions with the relevant government agencies for a possible start to recreational fishing in August.

This story was originally published July 16.


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