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Record salmon run predicted for 2014
Sockeye salmon migrating up the Columbia River this year may hit a recent record, a spokesperson for a habitat restoration project told the Rotary Club of Osoyoos last week.
Lee McFadyen, public relations coordinator for the Okanagan River Restoration Initiative (ORRI), was guest speaker last Thursday at Rotary’s lunch meeting.
As many as 400,000 sockeye could enter the Columbia River for this year’s migration, she said, adding the actual number reaching Osoyoos Lake would be substantially lower because many die naturally or are caught on route.
Some salmon also follow tributaries of the Columbia River other than the Okanagan, including the Wenatchee River and the Snake River.
This year follows successful salmon runs in 2012 and 2013, with 2012 being the largest.
McFadyen notes that salmon numbers had plunged in the late 1990s so that in 1998, only 2,000 fish completed the migration to the Okanagan River spawning grounds.
She credits the return of salmon populations to restoration of spawning habitat at the same time that an Okanagan Nation Alliance hatchery at Penticton began increasing the numbers of salmon fry.
During the 1950s, channelization was built along the river for flood control, McFadyen said.
Straight channels replaced the meandering river, and this increased the gradient and speed of water flow, making it more difficult for salmon to spawn.
The river restoration work north of Oliver has included reconnecting the river with two of the oxbows that had become separated from the river channel.
A first phase of the work was done in 2008 and 2009 and a second phase was undertaken last year. Along with the first phase, modifications were made to the McIntyre Dam.
New dykes had to be developed along the old Kettle Valley Railway bed to maintain flood control and boulders were placed in the water to vary the depth and flow and provide cooler areas for fish.
The work also provided habitat for smaller fish as well as restoring spawning grounds by putting the meander back into the river’s course.
The long-term plan is remove or bypass additional obstacles upstream, including at Okanagan Falls, which would allow salmon to migrate up to Okanagan Lake, McFadyen said.
Large dams without fish ladders have been the main obstacle to fish migration on the Columbia River, McFadyen said, noting salmon cannot migrate up the Columbia into B.C.
Only three tributaries of the Columbia support salmon spawning – the Okanogan/Okanagan River, the Wenatchee River and to a lesser extent the Snake River.
The first phase of the project cost roughly $1.2 million and the second phase cost about $800,000, McFadyen said. An additional $200,000 was spent modifying a drop structure that impeded the movement of fish.
Money is obtained through the Columbia River Treaty, however McFadyen said these projects must compete against others for the funds.
The ORRI is a joint initiative between governments, the Okanagan Nation Alliance and non-governmental organizations.