Restoring sockeye leads to new Okanagan business

The Okanagan Nation Alliance has created a new company, with the single goal of continuing their program of restoring sockeye salmon.

Standing in front of the kł cp’elk’ stim’ fish hatchery at the Penticton Indian Band

Standing in front of the kł cp’elk’ stim’ fish hatchery at the Penticton Indian Band

The Okanagan Nation Alliance has created a new company, with the single goal of continuing their program of restoring sockeye salmon to Okanagan lakes and rivers.

Okanagan Select is producing a line of salmon products, from canned salmon to candied and smoked varieties. But the money generated through sales gets poured back into the enhancement project.

“Any of the profit made off selling the product is put right back into the fisheries program,” said Sandy Terbasket, marketing manager for Okanagan Select, noting that it might be used to create a new spawning ground, or to repair and maintain fish ladders.

“This isn’t a business enterprise where we are looking at generating thousands of dollars of profit, because the money just goes right back into the program,” said Terbasket.

For more than a decade, the ONA fisheries department has been working on restoring the sockeye run, reaching a major milestone last year with the opening of a new hatchery at the Penticton Indian Band. Since 2010, the success of the program has been shown in the size of the sockeye run, in numbers that haven’t been seen since 1938.

That made it possible for the ONA to start a small artisan fishery, using sustainable methods. The offshoot of that, said Terbasket is Okanagan Select.

“It is not farmed salmon. It is wild salmon, fish that live in the freshwater streams and return to the ocean and come back,” she said. “We don’t overharvest. We want them to spawn naturally, but at the same time, we are helping them along.”

Okanagan Select has even earned an Ocean Wise endorsement for their sustainable practices.

The ONA didn’t conduct a fishery this year due to the extra stress being place on the salmon trying to make their way through the overheated water in local rivers, but Terbasket said they have a stock of flash-frozen salmon from last year to meet their needs for processed products.

Currently, Okanagan Select products are available at Farmers’ Markets in Penticton and Summerland, as well as select retailers, like Whole Foods and some area wineries, including Tinhorn Creek and Covert Farms.

“We’ve only been doing Farmers’ Markets since probably the second week of July and we already have 20 to 30 per cent returning customers,” said Terbasket. “They just love our product, there is a lot of support for the sustainability aspect, they like buying local.

“But they just really enjoy the product, because it is high quality. Our customers say the canned salmon is the freshest they have tasted — it tastes like salmon.”

Some, she said, are an easy sale.

“Candied salmon is a favourite with just about everybody. Kids love it and I think parents and families are recognizing this is a good way for getting their kids to eat fish,” said Terbasket, noting there are no preservatives or chemicals in any of the products.

The smoked salmon is especially popular  with the travelling crowd.

“I have a lot of hikers and campers buying it, just because it doesn’t require refrigeration,” she said. “The hikers like it because it has high protein, it’s light and it doesn’t take up much space in their bags.”

Okanagan Select will have a presence this weekend at the seventh annual Feast of Fields in  Kelowna.

“We’re connected with Slow Foods (Okanagan) at that event, so we are kind of tag teaming with them. It would be nice to showcase our product up in the Kelowna area,” said Terbasket.

“We’re looking to expand a little bit more. It looks like our product is going to be headed to Fort. St. John.”

More information about Okanagan Select can be found online at okanaganselect.ca.