Steeves/Trail Mix: Many happy returns to record numbers of Okanagan sockeye

More than half a million sockeye salmon are returning now up the Columbia River to the Okanagan Valley to spawn. Got your fishing licence?

A record number of sockeye salmon—more than a half million—are expected to flood the Okanagan basin in the coming weeks as they return to spawn, and a recreational fishery for them will open July 27 in Osoyoos Lake.

I never dreamed I’d see sockeye salmon return to the Okanagan in such numbers, nor that I would be permitted to fish for sockeye here in the desert.

It’s a bright spot amongst reports of widespread declines in returning salmon numbers along the West Coast of B.C.

This run comes up the Columbia River system and has been tracked during its adult life migrating north along the west coast of Vancouver Island, rather than into Puget Sound and the Broughton Archipelago, where fish farms are blamed by some scientists for contaminating the migratory waters of some salmon stocks with diseases that decimate runs.

This record-sized run is a victory for those who have been involved in: efforts to improve passage by the nine dams on the Columbia; the hatchery program begun in the past decade by the Okanagan Nation Alliance with the assistance of corporations, authorities and governments on both sides of the international boundary; implementing the Fish Water Management Tool used to manage water levels in the Okanagan basin; and habitat restoration efforts throughout the basin.

As well, we can’t forget Mother Nature’s management of conditions in the Pacific Ocean, where in recent years such phenomena as the Pacific Decadel Oscillation and La Nina have provided favourable conditions for their survival.

ONA senior fisheries biologist Howie Wright has been involved since the beginning of these efforts, and he admits it is rewarding to see the natives’ traditions and culture returning to honouring the salmon and remembering to respect the salmon now that they’re returning here.

He remembers in the 1990s when there were returns of only 1,500 salmon and says if you’d asked anyone then if they expected this kind of return, they’d have said you’re crazy.

However, with the cooperation of many, much has been accomplished.

ONA biologist Richard Bussanich forecasts the majority of the returning salmon will be trying to return to Skaha Lake because that’s were the hatchery-incubated young were introduced, but eventually he expects they will move higher up in the system, eventually into Okanagan Lake when access issues are resolved, and habitat restoration makes that viable.

Osoyoos Lake, however, is the most productive in the country, generating 10,000 salmon fry per hectare.

However, the run is limited by the available spawning habitat in the Okanagan system, so this week a  food, social and ceremonial fishery is being enjoyed by members of the Siylx, following which there’ll be a public recreational fishery opening. No date for conclusion of that fishery has been posted yet by the federal government.

Remember that in addition to your annual fishing licence, you will be required to purchase a salmon tag in order to participate in this fishery. They’re available online or from local fishing shops.

ONA biologist Skyeler Folks also asks that you watch for salmon in your catch that have been tagged under the large top fin with a yellow and white hollow tube of plastic, or that have surgical tags in the abdominal cavity. If you decide to keep the fish, he asks that you contact him with the date and time of the catch, the length, weight and sex of the fish, if possible. E-mail the information to: or call him at 707-0095.

To celebrate the return of the sockeye, the ONA is collaborating with the Pacific Salmon Foundation to put on a gala dinner at the Delta Grand Okanagan Resort Thurs., Aug. 2 called Many Happy Returns.

In addition to  fabulous food, there’ll be live music and entertainment, a silent and live auction that will include everything from helicopter trips and fishing excursions to dinners and weekend getaways, as well as First Nations artwork and even a copy of my book, Jude’s Kitchen, with 200 recipes for using fresh, local B.C. food throughout the seasons.

All funds raised will go toward habitat restoration projects in the Okanagan.

For tickets, e-mail Tracey Bussanich at: or 707-0095.

Local chefs such as Chef Stuart Klassen of the Delta Grand will delight you with their many ways to prepare salmon and other dishes.

It’s a delicious way to help local fish.

Judie Steeves writes about outdoors issues for the Capital News



Kelowna Capital News

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