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Task force to study kokanee

The number of spawning kokanee dropped
to about 101,000 fish last fall
from almost one million fish
20 years ago

The Daily Courier
Monday, June 26, 1995

PENTICTON (TNS) — A provincial task force is being formed to develop plans to restore kokanee fish stocks in Okanagan Lake.

Scientists, government officials and representatives from wildlife groups begin meeting Wednesday for a three-day workshop to develop the plan, in Kelowna.

“This is a complex problem and we have to bring the experts and local people to the table to find a solution,” Jim Beattie, Okanagan Penticton MLA, said. “We have to take actions to restore stocks.”

The number of spawning kokanee dropped to about 101,000 fish last fall from almost one million fish 20 years ago. The declining fish stocks prompted the provincial government to ban kokanee fishing on Okanagan Lake.

The advisory panel being formed by the provincial government will attempt to pinpoint the cause for the kokanee’s decline and identify the best method for restoring fish populations.

“There are some different points of view about the right course of action,” Beattie said.

Some advocate increased use of fish hatcheries to supplement kokanee stocks. Others take the long-term view that spawning grounds must be protected and improved.

The government wants a preliminary plan ready for next month. The public would then be asked to review and comment on the plan, prior to it being put into action.

“This is a legitimate attempt to address the problem,” Beattie said.

The strategy includes bringing together different government agencies to mesh out a common agenda. This is already being done to some degree, Beattie said. Recently the provincial government created a regional growth planning system to let municipalities make common development plans.

The decline of kokanee fish is attributed to a number of factors. The introduction of mysis, a food source for rainbow trout, proved detrimental to kokanee. The shrimp spread throughout Okanagan Lake eating up plankton, a source of food for kokanee.

“The regulations we put in place to help rainbow trout may have chewed away at the kokanee,” said Bruce Shepherd, head of the provincial fishery section in Penticton.

Habitat areas, particularly spawning in rivers and along the shore, were lost to urban development.

Shepherd said that by the 1950s, more than 90 per cent of the kokanee’s traditional habitat had been lost. Increased numbers of anglers and lower water levels are also believed to have contributed to the kokanee decline.

While kokanee fish stocks are in decline, the remaining population appears relatively healthy, Shepherd said. The problem hasn’t reached the crisis level like it has among some spawning areas for other fish. Sockeye salmon in the Upper Snake River in Idaho fell to a single fish in recent years, he said.

“We implemented the closure (of kokanee fishing) at a point where we have room to move,” Shepherd said.

Kokanee remain numerous enough to allow for a healthy recovery.

“If you leave it any longer you could face a loss of the entire stock,” Shepherd warned.

Although the action plan has yet to be developed, the government is going ahead with a $270,000 project to rebuild a one-kilometre spawning area of Mission Creek.

Shepherd said rehabilitation has paid dividends in the past. In fact, without the habitat renewal, kokanee fish stocks would have been far lower.

“If we had let nature take its course, we would have seen spawning runs of less than 100,000,” Shepherd said.