OKANAGAN LAKE FISH MANAGEMENT PLAN SUMMARY

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1 lin,'roduction OKANAGAN LAKE FISH MANAGEMENT PLAN SUMMARY B.C. Environment's Fisheries Branch looks after the province's freshwater fish. In Okanagan Lake, game fish inventories reveal an alarming decrease in kokanee in recent years. The problems are relatively simple. The solutions are not. Each year, as more people settle in the Okanagan, anglers catch additional fish. At the same time, humans divert water from spawning streams and alter stream beds in ways which harm spawning habitat. The result is fewer fish produced and more fish caught. Unless supply increases or demand declines, Okanagan Lakes most popular sport fish kokanee and rainbow trout could be in serious trouble. To deal with this challenge, the Fisheries Branch developed a five-year management plan for Okanagan Lake and i~s tributaries. This is a summary of that plan. We invite you to read it, discuss it, and then fill in and mail the attached questionnaire. Your response will help us manage the Okanagan fishery. OKANAGAN LAKE FISH RESOURCES At least 18 species of fish live in Okanagan Lake, but few are popular with fishermen. Anglers catch burbot (ling), lake whitefish, mountain whitefish, perch, carp, suckers, squawfish and peamouth chub, but none of these fish populations are threatened. Angling in the lake continues to center around kokanee and rainbow trout,,with kokanee being predominant. Because of their angling value, and because they are threatened by human activities, kokanee are the heart of our fish management plans. Rainbow trout, the second most important sports fish, feed extensively on kokanee. We are monitoring them to see if stocks recover in response to growing numbers of kokanee. If not, we will look at a more aggressive approach to the trout. WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THE FISH? For nearly twenty years, we have counted adult kokanee spawning in the major streams feeding Okanagan Lake. We have observed an alarming decline in numbers, with the number of spawning kokanee dropping by 75 per cent since the 1970's. On a positive note, while there are fewer adult kokanee, recent echosounding surveys show increased numbers of young kokanee in the lake. Unless disease, predation, or the fishery prevent these fish from maturing, the number of ~pawning adults should begin to improve. The lake is capable of supporting far more fish than it does now. Our best guess is that Okanagan Lake could support five times more kokanee and twice the present number of trout. These

2 2 numbers are unlikely to be reached without improved management of our fishery resources. WHY ARE FISH BUMBERS DECREASIBG? Many factors, such as predators, disease, and competing species, may have contributed to the decline in kokanee spawning stocks. But there appear to be two dominant problems: the destruction of spawning grounds and heavy fishing pressure. Habitat Destruction Kokanee are landlocked salmon and they spawn primarily in streams. There are shore-spawning kokanee, but we feel that stream-spawning anglers. Rainbow kokanee trout spawn are the ones most only in streams, where often caught by they spend their first year before migrating to the lake. Human activity has altered many streams entering Okanagan Lake. Declining waterflows from irrigation and domestic use can leave inadequate water for spawning. Careless development along stream banks, or shorelines for the shore spawning kokanee, can silt up spawning beds, reducing egg survival rates. "Channeli'lation" to control flood waters can destroy spawning habitat altogether. Over fifty streams enter the lake, but only 17 are presently used for spawning. The most important spawning streams are Mission, Powers, Kelowna (Mill), Lower Vernon, Peachland (Deep), and Trepanier Creeks. Fish habitat ha's been harmed in all of them. We can expect this increased pressure on fish habitat to continue as the region's human population grows. Fishing Pressure As young fry, the kokanee migrate to the lake to feed and grow. Here they are subject to natural predators, like trout, and natural cycles of food and disease. But as they grow towards maturity, they are increasingly threatened by anglers. Since 1971, angling effort for kokanee and trout has almost doubled -- from 180,000 to 310,000 angling hours annually. Along with increased fishing has come increasingly effective fishing gear. Downr1ggers, echosounders, and better lures have all contributed to a greater catch. We can expect these trends to continue. As a result, we estimate a sportfishing harvest of at least 60 per cent for stream spawning kokanee, and more than 50 per cent for rainbow trout. These levels seriously threaten the survival of sportfishing in Okanagan Lake. FISH MABAGEMEBT OPTIOBS We believe that doing nothing risks allowing the kokanee, and rainbow trout, stocks to decline dramatically. This is

3 3 unacceptable from the point of view of anglers, the environment, and the tourism industry. But what options do we have to avoid this fate? 1. Harvest Less Fish To do this, we can: a) allow the catch to decline with fish stocks; b) further reduce catch quotas; or C) Increase restrictions on gear, area or season. These strategies are at best a 'necessary evil', as they work by reducing either angler activity or success. 2. Change Angler Attitudes Anglers may decide to approach their sport in a different way. Examples are: a) food fishing may shift to less-preferred species; b) sport anglers may turn to catch and release. Although there is no indication that ang~ers are switcdhing to other species, there does seem to be a shift toward catch and release fishing. 3. Produce More Fish This can be done through habitat enhancement combined with fish stocking. An example would be building spawning channels and initially stocking them with hatchery fry. The proposed Okanagan Lake Fisheries Plan blends aspects of three options. Our long-term objectives are to: a) increase the numbers of spawning kokanee; b) maintain or improve kokanee catch rates in the face of increasing fishing pressure; and' c) monitor trout populations in case expected improvements fail to appear. all SPECIFIC PROPOSALS This is a cautious plan. It reflects our limited knowledge and the difficulties we face in meshing human activities with the needs of our fish populations. We believe that protecting and improving natural habitat for our wild fish stocks is the safest and most effective way to improve the fishery. We propose the use of hatchery fish only to supplement habitat improvement. I. Protection and Improvement of Fish Habitat 1. Maintain and improve the Mission Creek spawning channel.

4 4 2. Maintain and improve the spawning beds at Peachland Creek. 3. Encourage and assist Clubs to improve spawning beds in Peachland creek, Penticton Creek, Lower Vernon Creek, Naramata Creek, Eneas Creek, and other creeks. 4. Offer to work with the North Okanagan Indian Band to inventory and improve Equesis and Whiteman Creeks. 5. Search for new opportunities to enhance tributary and foreshore spawning areas for both kokanee and rainbow. 6. Assess the effectiveness of improvement projects by studying egg to fry survival. II. Supplemental Fish Stocking 1. Continue stocking program of half a million marked kokanee fry into the Mission spawning channel until the run reaches 50, Mark the hatchery fish with an adipose r;:~:-)and determine their survival from fry to adult. ~Will show whether the survival problems are in the lake or streams (hence whether more stream improvement work is worthwhile). 3. Encourage and assist 'Clubs to operate the Penticton Creek Hatchery. III. Profile and Influence Angler Demand 1. Find out what anglers want by surveying attitudes and activities. Alter management plans accordingly. 2. Conduct boat counts and creel surveys to determine whether the fishery is taking more fish than can safely be supplied. Restrict angling if absolutely necessary. 3. Determine whether sufficient numbers of kokanee survive after being caught to make catch and release fishing worthwhile. Promote catch and release fishing for kokanee and rainbow trout is feasible. IV. PubllC Education and Awareness 1. Actively promote viewing of kokanee spawning by school groups and the general public. 2. Increase public awareness of the fisbery resource by bolding a annual fisberies awareness day in Kelowna.

5 5 COKCLUSIOR To work, this plan requires increased public awareness and education. As a community, we must understand the value of protecting fish habitat. As anglers we must understand the need for a managed harvest of our limited fish resources. Choices have to made: on funding levels for fisheries projects, and who pays for them: on what kinds of restrictions we want to place on angling; on how anglers can help improve the fishery. Your response to the attached questionaire will help us make these choices. Feel free to attach additional comments. For more detailed information, the full 60 page Okanagan Lake Fish Management Plan is available at B.C. Environment's Penticton office.

6 .. 6 QUESTIORAIRE Strongly Agree Strongly Disagree 1. If Kokanee stocks decrease, we should: Reduce the daily limit Restrict high-tech gear Shorten angling season Ban fishing in parts of the lake 2. If Kokanee stocks recover, we should: Increase trout stocks even if this cuts kokanee catch Increase current quotas Maintain current quotas 3. Catch and release and increased use of non-traditional fish for sport fishing could reduce pressure on kokanee and trout stocks. We should: Use regulations to encourage them Actively promote these practices Leave it to individual anglers 4. Fish habitat enhancement and fish stocking programs can be costly. Funding for these projects should be financed by Province out of general tax revenues Anglers through higher licence costs Fish and game & conservation groups

7 7 5. I found this publication to be: Too complex and bureaucratic Too simple & without enough information A good use of tax dollars

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