With the expected release of some 3,300 sockeye fry on Monday into 6 Mile Creek in Vernon, three different releases have now taken place on Okanagan Lake as the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) looks to revive a a traditional salmon run they say sustained their people for thousands of years.
On Monday night, members of the Okanagan Indian Band will gather for the release, along with members of the ONA in the third release of sockeye fry into the lake. The ONA released 3,300 fry into Mission Creek in Kelowna last Friday and prior to that, 3,300 into Trout Creek in Summerland.
All of the releases featured ceremonial drumming and allowed members of the bands to release fish on their own, before the rest of the salmon were put into Okanagan Lake.
“This is so powerful and so historic,” said Westbank First Nation Chief Robert Louie, standing on the shores of Mission Creek on Friday evening, just after releasing a few fry. “To have the sockeye salmon re-introduced to Okanagan Lake is wonderful. I think this is something that is long past due. The salmon were here for thousands and thousands of years. We lost the salmon when the Columbia River system was dammed up and they cut off all of the food supply that we had with the salmon.”
One by one members of the Okanagan Nation Alliance—which represents eight First Nations bands around the Okanagan—stepped forward to release a few fry, from kids as young as a few years old, to elders in the community, such as cultural adviser Wilfred Barnes Grouse, who led a prayer before the salmon release.
“The salmon are so important to not only us today but I like to look seven generations into the future,” he said. “We’re saying prayers that the salmon do come back in a good way. I’m very glad to see all these young kids here to witness the good things we are doing tonight.”
With the total number of fry being released sitting at just under 10,000. it’s a lower number than the ONA had planned to release but the beginning of what will be annual releases of sockeye fry.
“This is a historic milestone for salmon restoration,” said Howie Wright, ONA fisheries manager, who said it’s the beginning of a long journey for the fry. “They will spend the winter in Okanagan Lake and then the following spring they will be smolts. They will make their way down through Okanagan River, through Skaha Lake, through Osoyoos Lake, down into the Columbia River and then they will make their way down to the ocean. Then one to two years later they will make their way back.”
Wright said he expects that of each individual release of 3,300 fry between 1,500 to 2,000 of them will migrate out to the ocean while anywhere from two to 17 per cent of those salmon would return to Okanagan Lake as adults.
There was plenty of emotion, traditional drumming and smiles at the ceremony.
“To have them re-introduced is such a powerful feeling,” said Chief Louie. “It’s something we believe that Mother Earth wants. It’s something we believe our ancestors are smiling here tonight to know the salmon are re-introduced. This is something our people have great respect for.”