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SOCKEYE SALMON RUN ON OSOYOOS LAKE PREDICTED TO BE ‘ONE FOR THE AGES’
Only 10 years after the sockeye salmon run into Osoyoos Lake was at near-record lows, local First Nation leaders, anglers and the federal government are preparing for what is expected to be the largest salmon run in history into the lake starting within days.
“Last year we had an amazing run and this year is supposed to be one for the ages,” said Tony Nootebos, owner of B.C. Sport Fishing Group, which is teaming up with the Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) and its Nk’ Mip Desert Cultural Centre on a historic new agreement designed to promote the salmon run in this region for years to come.
Derek Bryson, marketing manager for the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, Bob Etienne, cultural leader and historian with the OIB, and Nootebos, took area journalists on a tour of Osoyoos Lake last Wednesday morning to announce plans for the annual sockeye salmon run on the lake and to announce the opening of the new fish market and partnership agreement to ensure the market and salmon run are successful for years to come.
Not only is a new fish market set to open at the Nk’ Mip Cultural Centre to coincide with the opening of the commercial sockeye salmon run, tentatively set for Saturday, July 28, but the Okanagan Nation Alliance fisheries department and B.C. Sport Fishing Group, with support from the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, has organized a historic partnership agreement, said Nootebos.
The agreement will allow anglers to fish for sockeye salmon on Osoyoos Lake during the annual run between late July and late August. Anglers will be allowed to keep two fish per day during a four-hour tour, but they can continue to fish and catch as many salmon as they can, with any fish caught over the daily limit turned over to the OIB, which will then sell the fish at the market outside the cultural centre.
This partnership agreement will not only create jobs, but ensure economic prosperity for the sockeye salmon fishery moving forward into the future, said Nootebos.
“This is a pilot project that has never been done anywhere in North America before,” he said. “It’s the first program of its type and it’s very exciting.”
If the pilot project is as successful as hoped for, there are plans to perhaps extend it to other parts of the Okanagan Valley, including Skaha Lake near Penticton and Okanagan Lake near Kelowna, he said.
The opening of the new fish market at the cultural centre is part of a plan to ensure the long-term viability and success of the sockeye salmon run into Osoyoos Lake not only in the short term, but long term, said Bryson.
“The main goal is to ensure there are salmon runs for future generations,” he said.
The sockeye salmon plays an integral role in First Nation culture, not only as a regular source of food, but as a cultural and spiritual icon, he said.
Etienne performed sweetgrass and smudging ceremonies out on Osoyoos Lake during the presentation last week and he released four salmon into the lake to represent all four directions the fish swim upon entering the lake.
As Nootebos pointed out, the sockeye salmon that end up in Osoyoos Lake start their long trek to the South Okanagan from the Columbia River system in the United States.
Only 10 years ago numerous stakeholders had grave concerns about the long-term viability of the sockeye salmon run into this region as stockpiles were at near-record lows, said Bryson.
A concerted effort by First Nation leaders on both sides of the border, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and American partners have resulted in million of salmon fry being introduced into the lake and it has worked wonders, he said.
Stakeholders are predicting the largest run of sockeye salmon in history into Osoyoos Lake over the next several weeks, said Nootebos.
The fish market at the cultural centre will not only sell sockeye salmon and other fish species, but also fresh fruits and vegetables and artwork by area artists, said Bryson.
The fish market will open at 10 a.m. daily and run seven days a week until the end of August.
Once local First Nation bands have harvested enough salmon to meet their food and cultural needs, the sport fishing partnership program will get underway, said Nootebos, who has been involved in the B.C. sport fishing industry for more than 20 years.
B.C. Sport Fishing Group has recently hired eight full-time guides, who will take anglers out on Osoyoos Lake to catch salmon, he said.
The tours will begin at 7 a.m. and run until 11 a.m.
Anglers can catch as many fish as they can during the tour, but all fish caught over the two-per-person limit must be turned over to the Okanagan Nation Alliance to be sold at the new fish market, he said.
The average size of sockeye salmon that will be caught during the salmon run range from three-to-six pounds, he said.
It will cost between $400 and $500 for the four-hour guided tour, depending on the number of anglers participating, he said.
This program will create numerous seasonal jobs in this region for years to come, said Nootebos.
Anglers from across western Canada, western United States and Europe have traditionally taken part in the six-week salmon run, he said.
“We do get people from all over the world who come here,” he said.
The Okanagan Nation Alliance deserves much of the credit for coming up with the plan to promote the sockeye salmon run in this region and all partners are confident the future remains bright for the industry moving forward, he said.
The OIB and Fisheries and Oceans have also been excellent partners, he said.
Anyone wanting to sign up for a guided tour can do so at the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, Spirit Ridge Resort or go online at www.okanagannationfishing.com.