As part of its bigger plan to bring back fish stocks in Okanagan Lake and reintroduce sockeye salmon, new signs are springing up at boat launches in Kelowna reminding anglers about the rules for fishing and giving them information about the fish species in the lake.
It is the first phase of a program that the new Okanagan Fisheries Foundation hopes will help those who use the lake, think about it differently.
“I hate to say it but I think many people look at this lake and think of it as a giant water park,” said Mat Hanson, a fishing guide and president of the fisheries foundation.
He said his group, which includes partners such as the Okanagan Nation Alliance, the B.C. Wildlife Federation and the provincial and federal governments, want the public to see the lake as part of a larger ecosystem, spawning habitat and a home to numerous fish species.
“The recreational, cultural and economic value of this fishery is significant and has the potential to be a great contributor to our community, just like fisheries all over Canada,” he said.
The signs, at the Sutherland Park, Queensway, Water Street, Cook Road and Cedar Creek Park boat launches include the daily quota for kokanee and rainbow trout caught in the lake, (five and two respectively), advice that only barbless hooks are allowed, the fact there are speed restrictions for boats at various locations on the lake, that no powered boats are allowed at Killarney Beach Park, and information about the type of fish that can be currently found in the lake.
Tessa Terbasket, harvest co-ordinator for the ONA’s fishery, said the plan to reintroduce sockeye salmon to Okanagan Lake is underway and has been successful in other lakes in the region.
But she said the dam at the south end of the lake in Penticton is currently an impediment to the salmon making it into Okanagan and finding spawning grounds.
She also said the current drought is expected to have a devastating effect on salmon returns to local waters this year.
While 300,000 returning salmon would normally be expected, this year, because of heat and the low water levels, only 10,000 to 30,000 will come back, she said.
Despite that, Terbasket said fish experts are confident sockeye, once back in Okanagan Lake, will thrive in the deeper, cooler water. They are already doing well in the warmer, shallower water of Skaha Lake, she said. Sockeye prefer cooler water.
Meanwhile, the second phase of the sign program is expected to be complete by the spring of 2017, with signs at boat launches all the way from Vernon to Penticton.
“Our ultimate goal is for healthy, vibrant and sustainable fisheries in the Okanagan Valley and to see recreational and sport fishing rooted in Okanagan Valley tourism like it is in many other regions of B.C.,” said Hanson in a news release from the Okanagan Fisheries Foundation.
“This signage project is the first step in our mind, to gaining ground towards this goal while helping to protect and preserve the current fishery by developing a culture of stewardship from the community at large and visitors to Okanagan Lake.”