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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

July 6, 2014 at 8:28 AM

Upper Columbia sockeye expectations should soar in the near future

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(Photo courtesy of Dave Graybill)

Here is a great story by eastside outdoor writer Dave Graybill who writes about the new hatchery facility on Shingle Creek near Penticton, British Columbia on the Upper Columbia:

Sockeye returns to the upper Columbia River have really taken a turn for the better in recent years. Just two years ago we saw an all-time record return of sockeye with over 450.000 making their way up the river to our region. Thanks to the efforts of the Okanogan Native Alliance (ONA) with the support of Grant and Chelan County PUDs, we should see even more large and consistent returns of sockeye on the Columbia.

In May, a new hatchery facility on Shingle Creek near Penticton, B.C. was completed, and an annual release of up to five million sockeye fry will be possible. The ONA has been releasing as many as a half-million to one million sockeye fry since 2003 with their Skaha Lake Re-Introduction Program. The new hatchery is the culmination of over ten years of co-operative efforts by the ONA, Grant and Chelan County PUDS and other agencies. The Bonneville Power Administration funded a study way back in 2000 to look at the feasibility of such a program.

The new hatchery construction cost over $10 million, with much of the financing coming from Grant County PUD at 55 percent and 45 percent from Chelan County PUD. The funding is provided as mitigation for impacts of hydro plants on the Columbia River and other considerations. The site at Shingle Creek is seen as ideal as there are large lakes below the facility that provide ideal habitat for young sockeye. Single Creek feeds into Skaha Lake, then the Okanogan River and then Lake Osoyoos at Oliver, B.C. Young sockeye will spend a year or more in these lake environments before heading downstream to the ocean.

The NOA will be gathering brood stock in October for the hatchery facility with the first release expected in May of 2015. Anglers should expect the first returns of mature fish by 2017 and 2018. The work by Grant and Chelan County PUDs is not over yet. There are six to eight habitat restoration projects on-going or completed on the Okanogan River, and there are predation issues to address on Lake Osoyoos, which is a primary natural spawning ground for the sockeye. There will also be monitoring of the progress of the sockeye program.

Another aspect of the sockeye program is the Water Management Tool. This is a water flow method that maximizes the success of the young sockeye to move down stream and pass hydro facilities.

What all of this means is the future of sockeye returns to the upper Columbia River is very bright. We have probably seen some results of the program already. It is difficult to estimate actual numbers, but fish released at Shingle Creek in Penticton, B.C. have most likely contributed somewhat to the enormous runs of sockeye that we have seen in recent years on the upper Columbia.

The ONA has its ribbon cutting celebration at the Shingle Creek facility on September 20th of this year, and we will all have something to celebrate. Sockeye are extremely popular with anglers on the upper Columbia, and it looks like we are going have them in abundance in the coming years. The future looks very bright.

For details or Graybill’s weekly report visit his website at http://www.fishingmagician.com/.

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