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Kokanee collapse imminent?

Fishermen may pay the price
if a catch-and-release rule
is implemented

by John Keery
The Daily Courier
November 17, 1994

A drastic drop in the number of spawning kokanee this year has fisheries officials worried about the future.

“We feel we are teetering on the edge of collapse now,” said Steve Matthews, acting senior fisheries biologist with B.C. Environment in Penticton. “It is kind of scary what is happening.”

They don’t know why the decline has been so dramatic.

Matthews said his department is considering going to a catch-and-release rule for local fishermen, to replace the current fishing limit of five kokanee a day.

There were an estimated 101,000 spawners in tributaries to Okanagan Lake this fall, compared to 110,000 last year, 182,000 in 1992 and 214,000 in 1989.

This is the lowest number since records have been kept.

The biggest drop has been in Mission Creek, which traditionally accounts for half of the spawning from the lake, and Powers Creek near Peachland.

There were just 19,600 spawners counted in Mission Creek this year, compared to 32,000 last year and 94,000 in 1991.

The artificial spawning channel in Mission Creek Regional Park accounted for another 6,000 spawning kokanee this year, down from 15,000 last year and 36,000 in 1992.

However, the kokanee, which is a landlocked sockeye salmon, is an unpredictable species of fish and these numbers in Mission Creek have been seen before.

In 1989, there were 20,000 spawners in the creek and in 1990 there were 6,000 in the spawning channel.

Other streams on the lake seem to be holding their own and the.number of kokanee spawning on the shoreline instead of creeks appears stable.

Matthews said kokanee seem to be hatching successfully at the spawning channel in Mission Creek, but no one is sure why more are not returning four years later to spawn.

“A lot of things going on out in the lake are baffling the good results (of the spawning channel),” he said.

It is now known that mysis shrimp, introduced into the lake about 20 years ago to provide additional food for the kokanee, actually eat the same plankton immature kokanee survive on.

Rainbow trout and several other species eat kokanee and fishermen catch them.

Some also suffer gill lice that can retard their development and even kill them in extreme cases.

Plans to upgrade the spawning channel Mission Creek are still going ahead, but it will not solve the problem of too few fish returning, Matthews said.

Fishing regulations are set on a two-year basis so 1996 would be the first opportunity to change to a catch-and-release rule.

Most people would probably concentrate on rainbow trout and stop fishing for kokanee if a catch-and-release rule was brought in on Okanagan Lake, Matthews said.

“We expect that would be like a closure for most people.”

Kokanee are doing well in Kalamalka, Skaha and Wood lakes so fishing regulations in those lakes would probably not change.