Sockeye salmon recreational fishery opens Thursday, July 31
As sockeye salmon poured into Osoyoos Lake last week when water temperatures cooled, the date for the recreational fishery to open was confirmed as Thursday, July 31.
Although this date was widely expected, coming just before the August long weekend, officials from the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) and federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) wanted to monitor the sockeye migration numbers before officially announcing it.
This Thursday also kicks off the commercial fishery. A food fishery by Okanagan First Nations has been ongoing in recent weeks.
Water temperatures fell last week when a weather system brought in rainfall and cooler air temperatures.
Smoke from fires burning in Washington State also blocked sunlight, causing an overall cooling, said Howie Wright, fisheries program manager with the ONA.
Prior to the cooling temperatures, a “thermal barrier” formed and higher water temperatures kept salmon from migrating the final stretch up the Okanogan River from Wells Dam on the Columbia River to Osoyoos Lake.
A thermal barrier forms when water temperatures exceed 22 degrees Celsius and fish stay in the pool above Wells Dam, waiting for cooler temperatures before continuing up the final stretch.
Wright anticipates that with the warmer weather in recent days the thermal barrier will return, halting the migration again until temperatures cool off.
Last Friday, however, fish were moving through the gates at the Zosel Dam at Oroville at a rate of 800 to 1,000 fish per hour, according to the Washington Department of Ecology. [See video below]
The Zosel Dam is the last hurdle before salmon enter Osoyoos Lake after a long migration from the Pacific up the Columbia and Okanogan rivers.
When the recreational fishery opens on Thursday, anglers will be limited to two sockeye per day and fishing is only permitted during daylight hours. Salmon fishing is limited to the north basin, or the part of Osoyoos Lake north of the Hwy. 3 bridge.
Salmon tags are required in addition to fishing licenses and only barbless hooks are permitted.
Dean Allan, DFO resource manager for the Fraser-Thompson-Okanagan, said the migration will be monitored over the next couple of weeks and in mid-August the situation will be reviewed to determine the duration of the fishery.
The only recreational salmon fishing permitted in the south basin of Osoyoos Lake is in Washington State.
Allan agreed with Wright that the thermal barrier is likely to return.
As of Monday, more than 317,000 sockeye had passed the Wells Dam downriver on the Columbia from the confluence with the Okanogan River.
DFO is concerned that some fish will be caught on the Okanogan River in Washington State when the thermal barrier returns, Allan said.
Fish will, however, seek out the cooler waters of the Similkameen River to wait for the Okanogan waters to cool before continuing, he added.
Already, close to 612,000 sockeye have passed the Bonneville Dam, the first major dam on the Columbia River, 64 km east of Portland, OR. That number exceeds pre-season forecasts.
Many fish die en route as a result of harvesting in the U.S. or of natural causes.
Predictions of a record migration, the largest since 1938 when the Bonneville Dam opened, could be tempered, DFO officials caution, by higher fish mortality en route.
This could happen, for example, if river temperatures suddenly increased, depriving fish of oxygen.
When fish were pouring past the Zosel Dam last week, gates were opened to allow more sockeye over the dam than its two fish passageways permit.
Al Josephy, environmental planner at the Washington Department of Ecology, said the state is collaborating with DFO and the Colville Confederated Tribes to try to facilitate the migration of sockeye past the Zosel Dam.
Last Thursday, large numbers of sockeye were observed jumping up the open gates, where Josephy said it is more difficult to count them accurately.
Wright said there is a partnership also including the Colville tribes and other tribes lower on the Columbia River to tag sockeye with acoustic tags. These help to monitor the migration at dams and other points along the route, including at the Zosel pool and in the basins of Osoyoos Lake.
There is also a monitor for the acoustic tags at an outlet of Skaha Lake. There is no recreational fishery on Skaha Lake.
See video of sockeye at Zosel Dam (1:04):