Columbia River sockeye salmon that have amazed in recent years with record
returns to the Okanogan River system now have more room to roam with new access
to an area where potentially more fish can rear, and keep those adult returns
inexpensive fix made early this summer at the dam controlling Skaha Lake on the
Okanagan River in southeastern British Columbia is expected to allow more fish
to reach the lake and potentially spawn upstream, and give their young as much
as four times the space now available to grow.
cost of the fix? About $2,500, according to Chris Fisher, a fisheries biologist
with the Colville Confederated Tribes.
years of looking at the outlet of an inactivated fishway at Skaha Lake dam and
collectively shaking our heads, yesterday several 4 x 4 non-treated posts were
cut, set, and wedged, creating 5 step pools,” Fisher said in a June 10 e-mail
to the Bonneville Power Administration’s Joe Peone.
approximately 7 p.m. PST Skaha Lake, as well as Shingle and Ellis Creek became
accessible to anadromous salmonids. Cost of project, around $2,500.”
project was “financially modest with an incredible biological benefit,” Fisher
said earlier this month.
Okanagan adult sockeye salmon return has been amazingly numerous over the past
six years, with annual counts at Wells Dam totaling at least 130,000 and
reaching as high as 326,000 in 2012 and 291,000 in 2010. No other annual count
on a record dating back to 1977 exceeded 81,000, according to data posted
online by the Fish Passage Center.
2012 record could be in jeopardy. This year through July 14 the sockeye count
at Wells totaled 242,578. Daily counts from July 10-14 ranged from 21,000 to
ocean conditions, increased hatcheries releases and improved juvenile rearing
habitat and freshwater migration conditions all can be given credit for the
surge. New water management tools first implemented in the Okanagan basin in 2004-2005
have greatly reduced losses of eggs and juvenile fish to drought and flood and
scour events, allowing more juveniles to survive and a mostly a naturally
producing population to flower.
sockeye swim upstream and downstream through nine major hydro projects. Wells
Dam, owned by Douglas County Public Utility District, is the last of nine major
hydro projects the fish pass on their way to Lake Osoyoos and beyond to spawn.
The Okanagan reservoir is backed up by Zosel Dam, stretches from north-central
Washington into British Columbia.
is located at river mile 515, approximately 30 river miles downstream from the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Chief Joseph Dam, and 42 miles upstream from
Rocky Reach Dam, owned and operated by Chelan County PUD.
clearing Wells, the sockeye turn into the Okanogan and swim an additional 100
miles before they are ready to spawn.
fish are on the way. The 2014 count at the lower Columbia’s Bonneville Dam
(river mile 146) was at 609,928 through Thursday. It is estimated that about 85
percent of those fish are headed for the Okanagan with most of the balance
branching off into the Wenatchee River system in central Washington. More than
2,000 sockeye have taken a right turn in southeast Washington into the Snake
expect 40,000 fish to show up at the fishway” at the Skaha Dam, said Richard
Bussanich, a fishery biologist for the Okanogan Nation Alliance. A count of up
to 60,000 sockeye arriving at Skaha would not be surprising, he said.
Skaha dam, like McIntyre downriver, was “designed for fish passage but it was
never executed,” Bussanich said. In 2009 with the help of $1.4 million in
funding from Grant County PUD gates at McIntyre were reconfigured to allow
adult passage into the stretch of river downstream of Skaha.
with adult passage enabled at Skaha, the next objective would be to create
passage into Okanagan Lake, which is the river’s source and historically the
major rearing area in the basin. Fisher said creating passage there would
provide rearing space 10 times greater than at Skaha.
1997, under direction of elders, the ONA began work to bring the sockeye salmon
back into the Okanagan Lake.
Okanagan population spawns in October, primarily in a 3.7-mile stretch of the
Okanagan River north of the town of Oliver, British Columbia, and about 560
miles from the Columbia estuary, according to a 2003 report prepared for the
Okanagan Nation Fisheries Commission. The report evaluates what risk might be
posed by a reintroduction of sockeye salmon to Skaha might pose to resident
fish, kokanee in particular.
Evaluation of an Experimental Reintroduction of Sockeye Salmon in Skaha Lake
was funded by Bonneville Power Administration through a partnership with
Colville Confederated Tribes, during the period 2000-2003.
was determined that with proper project design, reintroducing sockeye salmon
into Skaha Lake posed little threat to resident fish stocks, and the ONA
proceeded with an experimental fry reintroduction program.
after, reintroductions began in the lake through a 12-year adaptive management
approach by the ONA, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ministry of Environment,
Colville Confederated Tribes, and BPA.
program has been ongoing now for 11 years with 700,000 to 1.1 million fry
planted in the lake annually.
fish have, particularly during the past three years, started to knock on the
door. Under particular river conditions – high flows -- a few of the fish have
managed to jump the gates, Bussanich said. Now with the five step pools the
sockeye should have easy access to Skaha.
of the production occurs when vulnerable fry emerge in early spring and migrate
or are carried downstream about 12.4 miles to Osoyoos Lake where they feed and
grow exclusively in the northernmost lake basin until the following spring when
as smolts they resume their journey south to the Columbia River and thence to
the Pacific Ocean.
ONA has estimated that roughly 10 percent of recent annual spawner returns
originate from those fry outplants in Skaha Lake.
done prior to the preparation of the report showed that sockeye were being
pinched into a fairly small part of the large lake. “Osoyoos L. rearing area is
currently restricted by temperature and oxygen limitations to a 10-foot deep
vertical band of water termed a ‘zone of tolerance,’ for young sockeye,” the
fish usually return to the Columbia River in their fourth year of age -- after
a little more than 24 months at sea.
in 2003 three complete barriers to sockeye migration between Okanagan and
Osoyoos lakes existed. These are the Okanagan Lake Dam built in 1915; the
Okanagan Falls, or Skaha Lake Dam (1921) and McIntyre Dam. That primary
spawning ground is between the head of Osoyoos and McIntyre.
the next body of water upstream with adequate depth to provide rearing habitat,
is deep enough,” Fisher said. A review of the lake showed that physical and
chemical conditions in Skaha Lake were as good or better than Osoyoos for adult
holding and juvenile rearing. Likewise the food supply was judged adequate.
sockeye resurrection effort over the years has included tribes from both north
and south of the border, as well as state and federal partners, the Chelan,
Douglas and Grant PUDs and others.
was formed in 1981 as the inaugural First Nations government in the Okanagan.
It represents the eight member communities including; Okanagan Indian Band,
Upper Nicola Band, Westbank First Nation, Penticton Indian Band, Osoyoos Indian
Band and Lower and Upper Similkameen Indian Bands and the Colville Confederated
Tribes on areas of common concern.
officials, in particular, hope that the sockeye population will boosted with
the completion of a new hatchery at Penticton, British Columbia. After more
than seven years of collaborative visioning, planning, and detailed
preparations for a new hatchery on the Okanagan River system, construction was
started in the summer of 2013 and completed this year. The hatchery was
developed in partnership with and funded by the Grant and Chelan PUDs.
new hatchery will spawn adults, incubate egg and provide early rearing each
year before fish are released into release into Okanogan River system,
including Skaha Lake.
25,000 square foot salmon hatchery will have the capacity to rear up to 8
million sockeye salmon eggs which will be released annually as fry into the