Keith Louis shows students from the Okanagan Indian Band Cultural Immersion School the sockeye salmon fry being released into Six Mile Creek by the Okanagan Nation Alliance Thursday on Westside Road. (Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star)

School of Fish

Release of 230,000 fry in recognition and celebration of Syilx peoples’ continued successful efforts to bring sockeye salmon back to the Okanagan

The Okanagan Nation Alliance’s kł cp̓əlk̓ stim̓ Hatchery has provided sockeye salmon fry for release at 6 Mile Creek, Trout Creek, and Mission Creek. The releases of 230,000 fry are in recognition and celebration of the Syilx peoples’ continued successful efforts to bring sockeye salmon back to the Okanagan, and since 2016 to Okanagan Lake.

“The return of our sc ‘win (sockeye salmon) to Okanagan Lake is our fundamental and inherent right and responsibility as Syilx people,” states Grand Chief Stewart Phillip.

Howie Wright, ONA’s Fisheries Manager points out that: “We now have another cold water lake [after Osoyoos and Skaha Lake] to help us build resilience in sockeye salmon stocks. Based on its size and depth we could see Okanagan Lake with a minimum of 30,000 -100,000 adult spawners per year. On top of that optimistically anywhere from 300,000- 500,000 for fisheries harvest would be coming to the Okanagan Basin to support the historical fishery at Okanagan Falls. It has the significant potential to meet food, social, and ceremonial needs, providing food security for communities, while seeing a surplus extend to a broad range of biological and economic benefits”.

The recent ceremonies are critical given that sockeye salmon were nearly extinct in the Okanagan Basin. In the 1960’s the Columbia River Treaty and habitat impacts in the Okanagan basin led to the creation of industrial reservoirs, and the building hydro-electric developments on the Columbia River, making it impossible for fish passage, while deeply impacting Syilx cultural and food systems. Years of hard work and political advocacy, particularly in the last decade, have seen the ONA working with provincial, federal and US Tribes and agencies to rebuild this sockeye run from 3000 up to 500,000 salmon returning annually.

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Students from the Okanagan Indian Band Cultural Immersion School watch as sockeye salmon fry are released into Six Mile Creek by Zeke Terbasket and Alfred Snow of the Okanagan Nation Alliance Fisheries Department Thursday on Westside Road. (Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star)

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