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Closing fishery just the beginning

by Judie Steeves
Staff Writer, Capital News
Sunday, March 12, 1995

Banning angling first step in reviving
Okanagan kokanee stocks, experts say

Closing the fishery, alone, may not be the answer to dwindling kokanee stocks in Okanagan Lake.

Both anglers and biologists agree it’s a necessary first step, but that’s where the disagreements begin.

Hand in hand with a closure should be the re-opening of the Skaha Lake Fish Hatchery, closed in 1989 due to ministry budget cuts, believes the B.C. Wildlife Federation.

The estimated annual operating cost of $60,000 is more than made up for in the estimated financial return to this valley of nearly a million dollars a year from anglers.

Ron Taylor, regional president for the BCWF and a director of the Oceola Fish and Game Club, says he can’t believe local municipal councils and chambers of commerce haven’t come forward to support the venture.

He believes if everyone was willing to chip in to fund the facility the way Summerland council is it could actually become a reality.

The hatchery is presently sitting idle and could conceivably be re-opened, but would have to be staffed and stocked.

Stocking it presents another problem, notes Dr. Peter Dill, a professor in the biology department at Okanagan University College.

If the hatchery were reopened, “where would the eggs come from?” he asks.

He also questions what point there would be in the long-term to beef up kokanee stocks with hatchery fish without determining why the kokanee stocks are declining.

There’s no point in increasing fish numbers without tackling the problem of healthy spawning beds, either, he says.

For example, in addition to the $300,000-plus committed this year by the provincial environment ministry to reconstruct the Mission Creek spawning channel, an additional channel is needed, as are channels in other areas.

He points out that the Mission Creek spawning channel was only intended as a pilot project when it was built in 1988.

“It has worked out reasonably well as a pilot project,” he says with a scientist’s caution, but, he adds, “there’s a problem in the lake.”

Biologists speculate that problem is mainly the fault of the Mysis shrimp introduced into the lake in 1966 as a fish food.

The plan appears to have backfired, with the shrimp in fact competing for feed with kokanee fry, and only serving as a food source for larger fish.

As well, Dill says there’s a need for biological research into just what is causing the drop in numbers of kokanee in Okanagan Lake, and whether Mysis is at the root of it.

If the hatchery is reopened, he would like to see it used as a research and enhancement facility by students from the college, which is already the home of a young and informally-organized Institute of Freshwater Studies.

Whatever is done, Dill is adamant, and not alone, in emphasizing it has to be a long-term commitment.

Don Peterson, manager of the Fish Culture Section of the environment ministry in Victoria agrees that habitat enhancement or restoration is needed along with the closure.
However, he disagrees with the need for re-opening the hatchery: “It won’t solve the problem in the long-term, and it won’t help the recovery of wild stocks.”

Because a vast majority of streams are diverted for irrigation, a great deal of spawning habitat is simply no longer there, he says.

The problem is also one of greed; of exploitation of the resource, he says.