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Kokanee gathering, but proving to be elusive for biologists
It was a pretty sight on a crisp autumn morning as members of the Penticton Flyfishers club gathered at the mouth of the channel last Friday, stretching a seine net across the river and then gradually drawing it to the shore.
But as often happens, while the fishing was good, the catching was bad that day.
After three tries with the net, the group, which included both club members, Okanagan Nation representatives and B.C. Fish and Wildlife branch staff, was still empty-handed.
The goal was to catch some of the Kokanee gathering at the mouth in order to harvest eggs for the club’s hatchery.
The resulting fry will be introduced to Ellis Creek, in hopes of restoring the run there.
Brian Jantz, on contract with the ministry, wasn’t surprised the Oct. 18 attempt failed.
“We saw the fish were slowly building over the last couple of days. But there was only a couple of hundred out there and we just thought we would give this a go this morning as a trial run,” said Jantz. “We will be in better shape next week as more fish move in.”
Fisheries biologist Paul Askey said there have been good numbers of fish counted in the river, 16,000 at last count, on their way to the spawning grounds.
He isn’t sure why they aren’t gathering at the channel mouth as usual.
“There is definitely fish in the area, but just a small number.”
It seems like they are moving through quite quickly instead of holding.”
At the edge of the stream, the club has set up a holding pen for the fish they hope to catch.
“The females might not be ready yet to take the eggs, we might have to hold them for a couple of days. It’s just wait and see now,” said club member George Graw.
The club is hoping to harvest 100,000 eggs to incubate in their hatchery, which has been out of use for many years.
“We put a lot of money and work into getting it all back in shape,” said Graw.
“It had sat for so long that it was starting to deteriorate.”
“The main goal for this year is just to get our hands on some fish, get our hands on some eggs, get that hatchery up and running, test out the plumbing, make sure everything works,” said Askey, adding that the project to restore Kokanee to Ellis Creek is a temporary measure.
“The longer term goal there is to improve that stream and passage for fish,” he said.
“We are going to put some fish in there for a start and in future years we would be working towards putting some fish back into Penticton Creek as well. Especially rainbow that aren’t there anymore.”
The current thinking, according to Askey, to focus on improving habitat and letting wild populations take care of themselves, protecting their genetic integrity.
“In the case of these small streams that have been severely impacted, like Ellis Creek and Penticton Creek, they’ve just been extirpated.” Askey said.
“There is nothing left there and if we don’t help them, there won’t be anything there, at least not for a very long time.”