Okanagan Sockeye Reintroduction

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1 Okanagan Sockeye Reintroduction Backgrounder Elders accounts, and other forms of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) tell us that many species of salmon once came into the Okanagan Valley and tell us how coyote brought salmon up into the Okanagan Basin for the Okanagan people. Historic accounts of sockeye, chinook, coho, and steelhead and potentially others have been documented as returning to the Okanagan. The primary fishing site on the Okanagan was at Okanagan Falls, as salmon migrated into the Okanagan Basin. Okanagan Elders still remember salmon in the Okanagan system above Okanagan Falls. Government reports dating back to the 1920 s indicate that Okanagan Falls would have been passable for salmon, giving salmon access to Skaha and Okanagan lakes. This is confirmed by chaptikwl, Okanagan oral history that is passed through the generations. There is a chaptikwl that tells how Sen klip (Coyote) brought the salmon up the Columbia River and into its tributaries, which includes the Okanagan Basin. There is also an almost 100 year history of damming and water diversions in the Okanagan system, with the first dam at the outlet of Okanagan Lake constructed in The first dam at McIntyre Bluff was constructed in 1921, and a second was replaced in The government of Canada completed channelization works in the mid-1950s for flood control purposes, and the Okanagan River lost 50% of the overall river length and approximately 90% of its wetland and riparian habitat. Today, only sockeye salmon return to the Okanagan in significant numbers, but they have been under numerous threats and have been in decline over the last several decades. Since their migration patterns have been altered due to the construction and operation of dams in the Okanagan Basin, the Okanagan s major salmon fishing ground has moved from Okanagan Falls at the outlet of Skaha Lake dam, to the downstream end of McIntyre Dam at the outlet Vaseux Lake. There are limited opportunities to harvest salmon due to varying run sizes of adult returns, the changes in their migration timing and environmental conditions that cause extreme temperatures in Okanagan River and its lakes. It is necessary to protect and rebuild the sockeye and also to renew the spiritual and dietary resource that once played a major part in Okanagan culture. In 1997, under the direction of elders, the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) Fisheries Department began work to bring sockeye salmon back into Okanagan Lake. The ONA met with staff from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), and the BC Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection (MWLAP) to discuss our goal of re-introducing sockeye back into the Upper Okanagan, and what the potential risks and benefits could be. To address their interests and concerns, Provincial and Federal agencies have been closely involved in the design of both the risk assessment and the implementation plan. Because all involved want to protect the existing kokanee and the sockeye populations which have each faced significant declines, it was decided to reintroduce sockeye into Skaha Lake, as a 12- year adaptive management approach, that will allow for monitoring and evaluation of the experimental reintroduction to assist in sockeye and kokanee stock management. At the end of the 12-Year

2 Reintroduction of Sockeye Salmon into Skaha Lake, the ONA, DFO and MWLAP fisheries managers will assess the program results and make the determination regarding the bypass or removal of migration barriers to allow adult salmon migratory access into Skaha Lake, for natural spawning in the Okanagan River at Penticton. Until migration barriers are bypassed or removed, returning sockeye adults will be able to access the current spawning habitat downstream of McIntyre Dam. The fall of 2004, began Year 1 of the 12-Year Reintroduction of Sockeye Salmon into Skaha Lake. Sockeye adults were collected on the spawning grounds in October 2004, and approximately 1.6-million eggs were transported to the Shuswap River Hatchery in Lumby, where they were disinfected, fertilized and incubated over the winter of 2004/2005. In May 2005, the surviving 1.1-million sockeye fry will be released into the Okanagan River in Penticton. The monitoring and evaluation component of the program, developed with the technical expertise of the ONA, DFO and MWLAP, is designed to assess the affects of the reintroduction on life history stages, growth and development of the sockeye and kokanee in Skaha Lake. The re-introduction of sockeye salmon into their historic habitat is part of the concept of ecosystembased recovery of indigenous anadromous salmon populations and habitat restoration in the Okanagan Basin. The return of sockeye salmon into Skaha Lake, is a day of celebration for the Okanagan Nation and our members, because it is the beginning of rebuilding our salmon stocks, so we can harvest salmon again.

3 Re-introduction Risk Assessment Because salmon have not been in Okanagan and Skaha Lakes for decades, our first step was to complete a 3-year study on the potential risks of re-introduction on resident fish species. The Evaluation of an Experimental Reintroduction of Sockeye Salmon into Skaha Lake was funded by Bonneville Power Administration through a partnership with Colville Confederated Tribes, during the period of The evaluation program was designed and implemented by the Okanagan Nation Alliance with the assistance and guidance of federal and provincial disease control specialists and fishery managers. The evaluation program had four main components: Disease Risk Assessment, Exotic Species Risk Assessment, Habitat Assessment, and the development of a Sockeye Salmon Lifecycle Model. Okanagan sockeye salmon face many hazards, one of which is a lack of good rearing space. Sockeye spend their first year in a lake (rearing) before they migrate to the ocean. In addition, adult sockeye return to the Okanagan in July and August where they spend the summer in the lake prior to spawning in October. Presently Okanagan sockeye only have access to Osoyoos Lake, where in the late summer, surface waters become too warm and deep waters have low oxygen and there is a squeeze of available habitat where juvenile and adult sockeye can survive. Reintroduction into Skaha Lake will provide high quality rearing habitat and is expected to increase the over summer survival of both juvenile salmon and adult salmon in the long term. With declining population numbers and multiple threats to the sockeye population, it is critical that fisheries managers and governments act quickly to give the salmon access to the cooler, deeper water in Skaha Lake during their first rearing year and for adults over the summer months prior to spawning in October. KEY FINDINGS There are no disease concerns because sockeye do not carry diseases that are not already naturally found in resident (freshwater) fisheries upstream of McIntyre Dam (e.g. in Skaha Lake) Further upstream migration of exotic species risks are low with focus on selective fish passage provisions at existing dams Re-introduction into Skaha Lake will provide an increase in rearing habitat for juveniles and over-summer habitat for adults Spawning habitat is limited and will require habitat restoration using ecosystem principles to benefit all species The results of the three-year study have been independently reviewed and accepted by the Okanagan Nation Alliance, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ministry of Water Land and Air Protection, Colville Confederated Tribes, and the Bonneville Power Administration, and the parties have agreed on an 12-year adaptive management approach to reintroducing sockeye salmon into Skaha Lake.

4 12-Year Sockeye Reintroduction Plan Year 1 of the 12-year program begun in October 2004, is being funded by Grant County Public Utility District as part of their hydroelectric mitigation requirements for unavoidable sockeye losses at the Priest Rapids and Wanapum Dams in the Columbia River. Major components of the 12-year reintroduction plan include: 1. Retain existing upstream migration barrier into Skaha Lakeuntilthe end of the 12-year plan 2. Collect sockeye broodstock from the Okanagan River spawning grounds downstream McIntyre Dam 3. Fertilize and incubate sockeye eggs at a fish hatchery, fry identification marking, and release of sockeye fry into Skaha Lake 4. Annual monitoring and evaluation of sockeye juveniles and all age classes of resident fisheries in Skaha Lake 5. Annual lake limnology monitoring 6. Monitor sockeye juvenile downstream out-migration The program has been designed by ONA, DFO, and MWLAP fisheries managers as an adaptive management experiment that is reversible if significant negative effects are experience by either the sockeye or kokanee populations. A committee of interagency experts will review the project results on an annual basis, and make any necessary adjustments to sampling methodologies.

5 Okanagan River Basin 2005 Okanagan River chinook salmon listed as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada 2004 British Columbia s 3 rd Most Endangered River Outdoor Recreation Council of BC 2003 British Columbia s Most Endangered River Outdoor Recreation Council of BC Canada s 3 rd Most Endangered River- Earthwild International 2002 British Columbia s Most Endangered River Outdoor Recreation Council of BC Canada s 5 th Most Endangered River- Earthwild International 2000 among Canada s four most endangered ecosystems Honourable David Anderson, Canadian Minister of Environment The Okanagan is a transboundary watershed shared between British Columbia and Washington and is a tributary to the Columbia River 2/3 of the watershed is in Canada Extirpated species include, coho, chum, sturgeon and Pacific lamprey Steelhead and chinook are present, but current population status is largely unknown There are over fifteen species of exotic fish and aquatic plants in the Okanagan Basin Since the 1950s, southern Okanagan waterways have lost approximately 90% of wetland and streamside habitats Transboundary efforts are in place to help restore fish and habitat to the Okanagan Basin Low water and poor water quality occurs in different parts of the basin

6 Okanagan Sockeye Salmon One of the last two viable sockeye populations in the Columbia Basin, making up about 50% of the remaining wild sockeye production in the entire Columbia Basin Okanagan sockeye are the last remaining viable population of salmon that returns to Canada via the Columbia River There were once several stocks of salmon that returned to the Okanagan Basin, but today sockeye are the last remaining salmon stock that continues to return in significant numbers Okanagan sockeye must migrate 1200 km, past 9 hydroelectric dams in the Columbia River before reaching the spawning grounds near Oliver The northern migration of Okanagan sockeye is blocked by the operation of a small irrigation dam at the outlet of Vaseux Lake, north of Oliver The main spawning habitat for sockeye is the 7km of remaining natural meandering river downstream of McIntyre Dam Fish in Osoyoos Lake face high temperatures and low oxygen Over the last 20 years, annual sockeye returns have ranged between 2500 and 55,000 adults returning to spawn in the Okanagan River Decline in sockeye is an indicator of poor ecosystem health Okanagan sockeye are considered at risk and face extirpation (local extinction) within the next 20 years if immediate action is not taken to stabilize and rebuild the population

7 Map of the Okanagan Basin Okanagan Basin in Canada. Source: Okanagan Nation Alliance

8 The Columbia Basin and the Okanagan River tributary. Source: Fryer, J. K Columbia Basin sockeye salmon: causes of their past decline, factors contributing to their present low abundance, and future outlook. Ph.D. Thesis. University of Washington, School of Fisheries. Ann Arbor, Michigan. 274 p.

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