Sockeye salmon have been returning in good numbers over the last few years, but the 2014 spawning running is shaping up to beat every record in the books.
Early predictions had the run at about 380,000 spawners, but by early August, more than 613,000 had passed over Bonneville Dam in Oregon.
That, said Howie Wright, fisheries program manager for the Okanagan Nation Alliance, is going to set yet another new record, besting records of runs all the way back to 1938, when the counts began.
And while sockeye have been making their way into Skaha Lake since 2011, larger numbers are expected this year.
“We would expect to see spawners this year in the Penticton channel,” said Wright. “I think about 10 to 15 per cent of the return we are expecting to be from Skaha Lake.”
Wright said they have been looking at options for sockeye passage over the dam at Okanagan Falls and decided this year to take a simple approach, putting in the stoplogs and operating the fishway as designed.
“That’s been in operation since the beginning of July,” said Wright. “We have a video camera on it and a tag detector. It will give us an idea of how well the fishway works as it was originally designed.”
There are already tribal and recreational fisheries happening in the lower river, south of the U.S. border, and Wright said the ONA has begun food, ceremonial and social fisheries in the river and Osoyoos Lake.
Last week, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans opened a recreational fishery on the north basin of Osoyoos Lake, allowing anglers to retain two sockeye per day. Skaha Lake remains closed to salmon fishing, and a review of the run and environmental conditions in Osoyoos Lake will take place by Aug. 13 to determine the duration of the fishery.
The ONA is also planning an economic fishery, and is extending an invitation to recreational fishers to work with them, an opportunity for anglers to not only catch their recreational allotted fish quota but assist the ONA with their economic harvest.
Once successful applicants have done their recreational fishing, said Wright, they would land those fish and then begin to fish with the Okanagan.
It’s an alternative for recreational anglers to work collaboratively in the pilot project, which includes a cooperative arrangement between the Osoyoos Indian Band facilitated through the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, Spirit Ridge Resort, and the Nk’Mip campground.
It’s also an alternative to catch and release fishing, Wright said, which in the warm waters of Osoyoos Lake can stress the salmon.
“It is generally not good to bring a sockeye up from 60 feet down, that are in 10 to 12 degree water, up to water that is 24 degrees,” said Wright.
“That is one part of the economic fishery. We will also, in mid-august, be doing a seine fishery again, similar to last fall,” Wright continued. “And of course, we will be doing the local sales at the Nk’Mip campground if people want to buy a sockeye there. “We will be looking at doing a value added product with our canned products, smoked (salmon) and Indian candy, those kind of things.”
The salmon hatchery being built at the Penticton Indian Band, he said, is on time and on schedule, with a grand opening planned for Sept. 20, and only finishing detail work to complete it.
“We will be collecting our first brood with the hatchery this October,” said Wright. “This coming spring of 2015 we will do our first fry release.”