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Kokanee head for the hills

Conservationists hopeful as kokanee run begins

by Ron Seymour
The Daily Courier
Sunday, August 27, 1995

WESTBANK — Sportsmen revitalizing a Westside creek were cautiously optimistic Saturday that their efforts would not be in vain.

By spreading gravel, clearing fallen trees and rebuilding a fish ladder, the volunteers hoped to make Powers Creek a better spawning ground for kokanee.

But stocks of the landlocked salmon have dropped dramatically in recent years — almost to the point of extinction, some scientists say — so no one knows for sure how many kokanee will turn up this fall in Powers Creek or the other streams that feed Okanagan Lake.

Still, members of the Peachland Sportsmen’s Association were heartened by the few kokanee they’ve already seen struggling up against the current in the fast-flowing creek.

“It’s looking pretty good so far, but we’ll have a better idea how many fish there’s going to be in a couple weeks,” club member Jerry Kneller said as he supervised about a dozen shovel-wielding men in hipwaders.

Spawning season doesn’t usually begin until the first or second week of September, but the cool summer has quickened the drop in water temperature in most creeks.

“The fish think it’s time to do their thing,” Kneller said, watching about a dozen of the blood red kokanee lay or fertilize eggs in a 50 foot stretch of Powers Creek.

As recently as the mid-seventies, there were more than a million kokanee spawning each year in the Okanagan, most of those in Mission Creek in Kelowna.

Last year, however, fewer than 5,000 kokanee were counted in Mission Creek, with the drop blamed on the effects of urban growth and a botched attempt to improve the natural food supply in Okanagan Lake.

“It’s quite possible there won’t be any fish at all in the creek next year at this time,” Peter Dill, an Okanagan University College biologist, said last September.

Ministry of Environment officials monitoring Powers Creek and other spawning streams can’t yet predict the impact of a government-ordered ban on kokanee fishing.

“It’s darn near impossible to say with kokanee how many there will be this fall, because there’s just too many other things going on in the lake,” Ministry of Environment fish biologist Steve Matthews said from Penticton.

After Mission Creek, Powers Creek is the second largest spawning ground producing between 10,000 and 20,000 fish. Officials attribute that, in large part, to the enhancement work done by the Peachland Sportsmen Association in each of the past five years.

Aside from volunteer labor and donated materials, the club will spend about $2,000 on Powers Creek and other streams this year, with the money raised through raffles and banquets.

“There’s a lot of people that fish and hunt, not all of them will come out and do things like this. If we didn’t do this work, it just wouldn’t get done,” said club member Al Springer.

After spreading the fine gravel, in which the kokanee can more easily lay and then cover their eggs, Garth Saunby expressed the optimism of other club members. “It’s good to know we got a few fish in there anyway,” he said. “Hopefully in a few weeks there’ll be a couple thousand more.”