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Kokanee rescue attempt begins

by Judie Steeves
Staff Writer, Capital News
June 28, 1995

Scientists from across the province gather in Kelowna today to peer under the surface of Okanagan Lake at how best to turn around the drastic decline in numbers of kokanee.

The first step was a ban on kokanee fishing this May.

More than 40 biologists, specialists in such areas as limnology and fisheries management, meet with local civic representatives and environment ministry staff at Okanagan University College from Wednesday through Friday.

The object is to come out of it with a scientific action plan for dealing with a drastic reduction in the number of kokanee, said the head of the environment ministry’s fisheries branch, Harvey Andrusak.

He pledged to come up with the money to embark on whatever action is recommended as a result of this week’s conference, even if it’s as high as the $500,000 estimated.

Not only is the value of the kokanee fishery estimated by the B.C. Wildlife Federation at as high as $25 million, but its loss will likely also have a rebound affect.

Okanagan-Penticton MLA Jim Beattie said the fact this high-level conference has been scheduled shows the government is taking this reduction in stocks very seriously.

“I think we’re committed to finding the money required here,” commented Beattie.

However, the bottom line is that there’s no simple answer and such strategies as watershed protection, protection of spawning grounds and possibly the re-opening of hatcheries may be needed to kickstart the program.

In fact, one delegate has even questioned whether reductions in the level of phosphorus in the lake in recent years might even have played some part in the decline.

Dr. Carl Walters, who produced the controversial paper on the demise of the West Coast salmon fishery and developed the model for Kootenay Lake, will give an overview of the Okanagan Lake problems to open the conference Wednesday.

He said the group will take its “proposed plan to the public in the fall to keep people informed.”