Starting today, most streams and rivers in the South Okanagan will be closed to fishing.
Penticton’s Bob Otway, a member of the Sports Fishing Advisory Council, said the water in the Okanagan River is so warm that sockeye salmon are holding in the Columbia River until temperatures drop.
“They won’t move into the Okanagan River if the temperature is high. When the water temperature hits 17 degrees (C), the stress on the fish is such that they could die,” said Otway, adding that the Department of Fisheries is keeping track of the temperatures.
“The water temperatures in the Okanagan River are 24 degrees,” he said. “That’s why they shut them down.”
Responding to dry conditions, the province has announced a Level 3 drought rating for the South Okanagan and Similkameen and taken the additional action of suspending angling in streams and rivers throughout the South Okanagan due to ongoing low-stream flows and warming water temperatures.
The closure, which is in place until Sept. 15, is protecting fish stocks at a time when they are vulnerable due to low flows and high water temperatures. Lake fishing is not affected by the order. On July 3, a similar closure order was put in place for southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
Otway said most anglers understand this is a conservation measure, intended to reduce stress on the fish population.
“Even with catch and release, the chances of the fish surviving the stress is very low,” he said. “Osoyoos Lake has become a major salmon fishery now, with the sockeye coming in there. My understanding is that it looks like it is going to be a record number of fish this year again. It’s just a case of waiting for the temperatures to cool and the fish to come through.”
Otway said he hasn’t heard of any fish kills — large numbers of Kokanee or other fish washing up on shore — that are often caused by the high temperatures.
“One of the reasons Osoyoos and Skaha Lakes are good salmon lakes is because they are deep and cool,” said Otway. “This year we won’t get a recreational salmon fishery in Skaha, but somewhere down the line, with the work the Okanagan Nation has done and with their hatchery, we could see a recreational fishery.”