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Kokanee a rare sight

Officials hope improvement to spawning channel will help the fish

by John Keery
The Daily Courier
October 3, 1995

KELOWNA — While it is getting harder to find kokanee in Okanagan Lake, you can still see a few in the newly rebuilt spawning channel in Mission Creek.

Judy Toms is a volunteer interpreter at the spawning channel in Mission Creek Regional Park on Springfield Road.

“I tell the story about the tradition of the kokanee,” Toms said. “People should know they are dependent on us for their habitat.”

Last year, the number of kokanee spawning on the shoreline and streams flowing into Okanagan Lake declined to about 100,000, down from about a million 20 years ago.

Mission Creek accounted for about 30,000 spawners last year. That is down from300,000 in the early ’70s and probably a million in the early part of this century.

“There is a grab-bag of compounding factors,” provincial fisheries biologist Bruce Shepherd said.

“Everything is meshing together and putting pressure on the fish,” he said.

The Fish and Wildlife Branch closed Okanagan Lake to kokanee fishing in April, the first time this has ever been done.

Shepherd said the exact reasons for the decline are difficult to pinpoint but biologists think it is a combination of factors.

Mysis shrimp introduced into the lake to provide more feed for the fish actually compete with small kokanee for food, limiting the number that survive to adulthood.

Species such as whitefish, carp and yellow perch that were introduced to the lake earlier this century also complete with the native fish for feed.

Recent efforts to reduce the amount pollution from sewage might be having a negative effect on the fishery by reducing plant growth in the lake, Shepherd said.

“The cleanup is perhaps a factor putting pressure on fish production.”

Kokanee will eat mysis shrimp if they get big enough.

But Shepherd estimates only 10 per cent reach the approximately 25 centimetres of length that enables them to regularly catch shrimp.

Toms said people have to realize that everything they do affects the environment including fish habitat.

She tells her tour guests that pollution from cars, erosion from poor logging practices, loss of wetlands to urban development and chemical sprays used by farmers and home gardeners all affect the water the fish live in.

“We have virtually destroyed Mission Creek,” she said.

Toms and Shepherd hope the $300,000 upgrade on the spawning channel completed this summer will help reverse the trend.

The channel was originally built in 1988 with a lot of volunteer help from Kelowna Fish and Game Club, Lonely Loons Fly Fishers Club and Oceola Fish and Game Club.

It had become clogged with silt and needed a new water control gate to ensure a steady flow of water over the gravel beds in winter.

The upgrade was paid for by the Habitat Conservation Fund which gets its money through surcharges on hunting and fishing licences.

Toms and a fellow interpreter take school tours through the spawning grounds on weekdays.

Tours will be conducted at 9:15, 10:15, 1:15 a.m. and 12:15 and 1:15 p.m., Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Tours can be arranged on weekends by request.

Call 860 6410 for information or to make arrangements.