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Okanagan Nation clears final barrier in bringing home salmon to Okanagan Lake


Okanagan Nation Territory (Westbank British Columbia): Starting June 3, 2016, the Okanagan Nation Alliance's (ONA) k cplk stim Hatchery will be providing thousands of sockeye salmon fry for ceremonial fry releases taking place at 6 Mile Creek (Vernon), Trout Creek (Summerland), and Mission Creek (Kelowna). The releases are in recognition and celebration of the Syilx peoples' continued successful efforts to bring sockeye salmon back to the Okanagan, and in particular now to Okanagan Lake.

These ceremonies are critical given that sockeye salmon were nearly extinct in the Okanagan Basin. In the 1960's the Columbia River Treaty and other developments 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.


Okanagan fishermen


Grand Chief Stewart Phillip stated that "Our salmon are sacred, and are our constitutional rights. We have been working collaboratively for over a decade with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the Province of BC to study the impacts of Okanagan Sockeye on the ecosystem. The results have proven what we have always known, that these salmon have always been here, and that there are no negative impacts. We are happy to have the support of DFO, yet remain frustrated and confused as to why the Province of BC remains opposed to these efforts".


Sockeye salmon


These conservation efforts are critical. Last year's drought and heatwave devastated an expected robust Okanagan sockeye salmon run. In response, Howie Wright, ONA's Fisheries Manager pointed out that "We now have another cold water lake [after Osoyoos and Skaha Lake] to help us build resilience in sockeye salmon stocks, diversifying the gene stock within each of these lake systems. 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-.5 million for fisheries harvest would be coming to Okanagan Basin. It has the significant potential to meet food, social, ceremonial needs, providing food security for communities, while seeing a surplus extend to range of biological and economic benefits".

The Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) was formed in 1981 as the inaugural First Nations government in the Okanagan, which represents the 8 member communities of the Okanagan Nation. The ONA's k cplk stim Hatchery is central to our conservation efforts. The 25,000 square foot hatchery has the capacity to rear 8 million eggs, and is currently equipped to handle all fish culture aspects required for 5 million eggs from brood stock management until fry release.


Original article published by Okanagan Nation Alliance

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