Sockeye fry released into streams and lakes across Okanagan | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Sockeye fry released into streams and lakes across Okanagan

Okanagan Nation Alliance members release sockeye salmon into the Columbia River and Slocan Lake, May 11, 2021.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Okanagan Nation Alliance
May 17, 2021 - 7:00 AM

The Okanagan Nation Alliance fisheries team is releasing sockeye fry into streams this spring across the Okanagan as part of its ongoing program to restore sockeye populations to the Okanagan and Columbia River Basin.

The releases are held in conjunction with annual salmon ceremonies, said Okanagan Nation Alliance fisheries manager Howie Wright. In 2004, the ONA began stocking Skaha Lake and in 2017, Okanagan Lake with hatchery-reared fry. The alliance monitors their growth, survival, and interactions on kokanee populations. From 2014, the ONA has been rearing the fry for release from its Penticton hatchery.

READ MORE: Sockeye salmon predicted to return in record numbers to Okanagan rivers and lakes

In the mid-1990s, sockeye returns reached as low as 2,500 fish.

“So what we worked on with the federal and provincial government was a stepped approach to restoration,” Wright said.

The adult sockeye will return to spawn in Okanagan Lake later this year so the ONA will be able to track where they go and where they spawn, he said.

Generally, if there are 1 million fry released into the lake, only about 50% will reach their smolt stage where they will make their way to the ocean. Only 1 to 2% of those 500,000 smolts will return, so they’re expecting a return of 20,000 to 40,000 adults coming back to the Okanagan Lake area, Wright said.

Fry are released in Mission Creek, Trout Creek and at Six Mile Creek, he said. Generally, sockeye salmon have a four-year life cycle.

“The Syilx Okanagan Nation have a long-standing and successful record of salmon reintroduction in the Okanagan system of the Columbia watershed, with upwards of 500,000 sockeye now returning annually,” Chief Keith Crow of the Syilx Okanagan Nation said in an ONA press release.

This year, the ONA will release 4.1 million sockeye fry in total from its hatchery, said Tara Montgomery, ONA communications lead.

In Sylix culture, spring salmon is one of the food chiefs for the Okanagan, and there’s a responsibility to care for sockeye and chinook salmon in the region, Wright said.

“Culture wise, it’s an obligation and responsibility to bring salmon back as one of the four food chiefs.”

Historically, salmon was also an important food source for Okanagan peoples and some studies show there are benefits of salmon restoration from a diet and food security perspective, he said.

On May 11, 10,000 sockeye fry were released into the Columbia River and 10,000 were released into Slocan Lake. Sockeye fry will also be released June 8 at Six Mile Creek and June 9 at Mission Creek in Kelowna.

The ONA is also conducting a long-term Okanagan Chinook Restoration Program designed to assess the feasibility of restoring summer Chinook salmon to the Okanagan. In June of 2017, hatchery-reared Chinook fry were released into the Okanagan River.


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