Friday, November 18, 1994
Although it might not even be the answer to this year’s drastic reduction in the number of kokanee that returned to spawn in creeks around Okanagan Lake, a virtual closure of the fishery is being considered for 1996.
In fact fishing for kokanee in Okanagan Lake would be limited to catch and release, but because people usually fish them to eat rather than for sport, senior fisheries biologist Steve Matthews admits officials do not expect people to fish for them.
Because the kokanee are a fragile fish they often do not survive release either, the Environment Ministry biologist said, so calling it catch and release is a ‘soft way’ of closing the fishery.
The trout and kokanee fishery on Okanagan Lake is estimated to be worth $1.8 million a year, based on 60,000 angler days, and the expectation that the value of each is $30, said Matthews.
If you split the value between trout and kokanee, the kokanee fishery is worth nearly a million dollars annually.
A complete lake closure is considered too drastic, since the rainbow trout population is relatively stable at present, but they do rely on the kokanee for survival, noted Matthews.
Estimates for this year’s kokanee run were the lowest on record, particularly in Kelowna’s Mission Creek and its spawning channel which contributes half the stream spawning kokanee to Okanagan Lake.
Interestingly, the spawning levels in most of the other spawning creeks on Okanagan Lake did not drop significantly this year — in fact the production of Penticton Creek, where considerable habitat enhancement has now been done by the Penticton Shooting Sports Association, was up considerably.
Possible reasons for the drop range from predators to competition for feed with the Mysis freshwater shrimp introduced several years ago, to pressures from urban development in this valley and from the number of anglers.
The picture is much brighter further up the valley at Kalmalka and Wood lakes, at least partly due to the efforts of the Oceola Fish and Game Club which has long been involved in egg incubation and enhancement work, including work on the Mission Creek spawning channel.
Ron Taylor, regional president for the B.C. Wildlife Federation as well as a director with Oceola, says club members voted Wednesday night to support the ministry in its proposal to go to a catch and release restriction on Okanagan Lake, even though there is concern that might increase the pressure on Wood Lake.
However, he feels strongly that the Skaha Lake Fish Hatchery, which used to supply kokanee to streams such as Mission but which closed down in 1989 due to ministry budget cuts, should be re-opened.
Matthews admits the facility still exists and could be opened up, and said it cost about $45,000 a year to operate in its last year, but operating funds were cut from the ministry’s budget.
In 1991 and 1992 spawning numbers in Mission Creek were 116,000 and 99,000, compared to 25,000 this year. Those were returns from the eggs incubated from the Skaha hatchery, said Matthews.