Early Thursday morning, crowds of children and adults gathered along the banks of the Okanagan River Channel to participate in the annual release of salmon fry into the river system.
The release, which started in 2004, is always a special day for the Penticton Indian Band and the Okanagan Nation, both as part of their program to reintroduce sockeye salmon to Skaha Lake and as a new tradition. But this year, the day was made doubly special by a ceremony following the release to break ground for a long-planned fish hatchery on Shingle Creek.
“What an awesome morning,” shouted Chief Jonathan Kruger, beginning the ground-breaking ceremony by thanking the multitude of children from schools up and down the Okanagan Valley for helping with the earlier salmon release. That was just the first of many people on a long list of thanks Kruger issued.
“I usually don’t talk from cards, but this is such an amazing day,” said the chief as he unfolded his list of names. “Hard work and sponsorship has created this reality we are celebrating today. It is really important to acknowledge these fine people.”
On that list were people from the hatchery project team, the ONA fisheries department, the Colville band, along with the Chelan and Grant public utility districts on the Washington side of the border.
“I would also like to take this moment to reflect back, because this has been a long journey,” said Kruger, making particular mention of past chief George Albert Saddleman, as having the original vision.
“Bringing the salmon back has been a journey and has taken a lot of hard work and this is one more step to ensure we will always have salmon” said Kruger.
This ceremony marks a milestone for the Okanagan Nation Alliance and the eight member communities, the culmination of more than seven years of collaborative visioning, planning and detailed preparations for the new hatchery, which is part of a long-term program to restore the range of sockeye in the upper Okanagan watershed, Okanagan Lake and Skaha Lake systems.
“The hatchery is the work of the collective effort of the Okanagan Nation and is a true demonstration of what can be done with collaboration and the creation of partnerships,” said ONA Chairman Grand Chief Stewart Phillip. “This project is not only our contribution to the Nation but our contribution to the economy in the region.”
The 25,000-square-foot hatchery is being developed in partnership with and funded by the Washington state public utility districts. It is expected to be completed in May 2014, with the capacity to rear up to eight million sockeye salmon eggs which will be released annually as fry into the Okanagan system.