Is Okanagan Lk. In Trouble??

I've left this topic alone for a while, there were some "tense" emails being thrown about over this so figured I'd let things cool a bit!  With that said, everything has cooled, especially the weather and with that less fishing reports including from yours truly!  With temps getting to the -10 range all over the Interior there are of course less anglers out and maybe that'll help the fish population in Okanagan Lake, or not.

I've been asked by a few anglers what my take is on the lack of fish in Okanagan Lake, I'm far from being any kind of expert on it however, I as usual am more than willing to give my 12 cents worth of opinion into the matter.  There are some that feel the derby's we have on the lake are not helping but I would have to say (and thanks to moi!) its not as bad as it used to be.  Not to long ago it was all a catch and kill derby, with the heaviest fish winning the derby.  I started the "longest fish with a photo derby" over 8 years ago and it seems to be catching on.  However, with respect to Okanagan Lake its all " a day late and a dollar short" when it comes to a productive fishery.

Just to date myself a little bit, back in the '60's the kokanee limit per angler per day was 50, and it was nothing to go out and achieve that goal.  The smallest rainbow you'd probably catch during the same day would be at least 2 lbs and 5 lbers were a regular event.  There were also allot more derbies back then and of course, as stated, all catch and keep.  Start winding the years forward and anglers complaining about there not being so many fish and the kokanee limit went to 25, then to 15, then to 10, 5, 2 and then none.  I don't know about you but I also noticed a distinct decline of rainbows as the kokanee declined.  This may be because one of the rainbows main and important food sources was also declining, but the catch limits for rainbows remained almost the same.  You'd have to go back in the Reg's to see what the limit has been over all those years for rainbows but it always remained pretty high, but I don't know why.

So, is the answer to restock the living bejesus outta the lake with rainbows (maybe triploids?), figure out why the kokanee don't like the lake (nothing to do of course with the Mysis shrimp problem?) or what, I don't know, I'm not the "expert".  I honestly feel that the fishery has gone down the tube for Okanagan Lake, and it is very evident from just a simple thing such as my fishing reports.  When I first started guiding back in 2001, I had more reports and better fish caught than on Shuswap Lake, but that has now turned around and Shu is 100% more productive for rainbows.  And, that is in a lake that has competition with lake trout and bull trout, a couple of  pretty voracious species.  It has been shown that lake trout do indeed inhabit OK Lk, but I don't think in any great numbers and are not even in the picture as far as being in competition with the rainbows for anything.  So where have the fish gone??  If you listen to some ollllllllllllllllllllllddddddddddddd  timers who fished this area 50 years ago, they'll tell you its a trend, stocks go up and down, no reason given.  Look at Wood Lake now, where have the kok's gone from there?  I spoke to Ron Taylor about this and he feel's it has to do with not only some overfishing (icefishing) but also the water level fluctuation in the creek between Duck Lk and Wood Lk, no water, no spawning.  Does Okanagan Lk have this problem, I have no idea, but there has to be some reason for less and less kokanee returning to the streams or to the shore to spawn.

They always say that if you want to complain about something then you should at least have an idea as to what the solution may be or offer an opinion based on your experience with your whining.  My answer???  Don't have one.  If you read through the emails that were sent out to quite a few anglers that were engaged in the online talk about Okanagan Lks woe's, it just adds more questions to the debate rather than answer's, which is where I'm at.  I still say leave the big fish alone, those are your fish you'd like to spawn and restock the lake.  Lower the retention limits if necessary but with OK Lk they are already pretty low, and with less and less fishing licenses being sold every year, angling for many will no longer be the sport of choice. With that said though and something I have always said, there is much more to the sport of fishing than just catching the fish, but one or two would sure be nice now and then!  Have a read at a couple of the emails , the first is from Mat Hanson of the Okanagan Fisheries Foundation:

Hi Jim

Your concerns and anecdotes about the Okanagan Lake fishery are echoed and confirmed by my own experiences in the last few years ,and many others who enjoy the fishery on a regular or semi regular basis and who's feedback I've received.  We are all worried and definitely need to develop effective strategies to tackle the problem.

The issue of Derbies on the lake is a complex one that is obviously divisive, the pro's and con's are numerous on both sides, and depending on the nature of a derby and the actions of the participants, a derby can be a good thing or a bad thing for a fishery.  The fact that the wording on the website for the Okanagan Lake Winter Derby is 'Catch and Release', and the winners are determined by fish length measured on a supplied fish ruler and verified by photographical evidence is testament, in my view, to the Derby operators concern for the fishery.  One of the primary reasons for the summer and winter Derby's it is to help raise awareness around the plight of the fishery and it can also be a great source of invaluable data that would cost thousands of dollars and man hours to produce via other avenues 

To simply close the fishery is an option no doubt, but not one that will not address issues such as spawning habitat loss and alteration, dwindling Kokanee salmon numbers and feed for rainbow trout, and the ongoing constraints to data collection and study due to the Ministries budget restrictions. 

Our work with the local First Nations around the re-introduction of salmon to the Okanagan Valley, the Osoyoos Lake fishery specifically, has been rewarding and heartening as the ONA invites the greater communities involvement and feedback, and wants us all to share in the benefits of improved fisheries.  There is of course debate around the merits of re-introduction, or introduction depending on who you talk to, of salmon species to Okanagan Lake, and that is a good thing.  The more we talk, the more we work towards the validation of opinions, finding solutions to concerns as well as developing a course of action. I, like many others, truly believe that the only way forward for the big lake Fisheries of the Okanagan Valley is working together with First Nations, the Ministry and action groups to develop and achieve a common goal; which ultimately should be the improvement, restoration and long term sustainability of the these Fisheries.  No one group should control the future, no one group has any more right than another.  All stake holders, user groups, and the general public all have a right to healthy and sustainable fisheries that provide cultural, economic and recreational value to the community as a whole.  The Shuswap system sustains numerous species including salmon and has a good rainbow trout population, perhaps with the right management, increased spawning habitat restoration and protection, a broad public awareness campaign and a lot of hard work from all the groups involved, perhaps Okanagan Lake might be able to sustain a similar fishery as in the Shuswap. Keeping in mind it is a different system with different characteristics.

In-fighting and accusations as to different groups or individuals motivations only fuel the divisiveness and hinder the process, but debate, study and real action on our behalf could some day see an outcome that is beneficial to all, including the fish.

Your passion, knowledge and concern is both useful and warranted Jim.  Lets work together to get this fishery healthy and productive mate!


Mat Hanson
Okanagan Fisheries Foundation

The next email was from Rick Simpson of the BC Wildlife Federation:

Good Sunday Morning, Mat,

Re: Reply Re: Okanagan Lake

Thanks for sharing your comments and your energy on this subject...and...for what Jim himself calls "a rant", shared with est. 90 other like-minded people.

I'm sure you've also shared this with Danny, Bob, Howie & Richard.

There's a whole whack & layers of assumptions and expectations, underlying Jim's rant and your comments...

"we" should dig down through those layers of assumptions & expectations, to get to bedrock, ie: core problems, issues & their solutions.

The "them" & "us"..vs.."we" ("silobusting")...might be therapeutic as a vent or rant...but...might, in the long run, be counterproductive.

"we" seems to work better, ie: multi-stakeholder partnerships of stewards, both like-minded and strange bedfellows alike, working together, focusing of items of mutual benefit, interest & concern; ie: the long-term health of the fisheries resource in Okanagan Lake.

Facts and science - there is no BC government money* for adequate boots-on-the-ground, waders-in-the-water, on-going, in-depth inventory work and for hatchery augmentation, should that be deemed a solution
(for small lakes management see FFSBC's constructive Okanagan region work; see also: Summerland hatchery (founded in 1928) Brook & Rainbow trout; PIB Sockeye hatchery (2014); PFF Kokanee hatchery (unmothballed in 2013); Chief Joseph Chinook hatchery (2013/14))
*  the big 3 (health, education, social services) and recently extractive ministries, over successive regimes, out compete other ministries at cabinet and treasury board level, for BC taxpayers dollars, leaving less than 1/10 of 1 % for environmental work, in all other ministries.

In conversations on this and related topics...I'm hearing recurring phrases like: "Flogging a Dead Horse", "Shooting a Carcass"; "Getting Blood from a Stone"

No money = no political becomes a circular equation...a downward self-reinforcing/confirming spiral.

Jason asked me a while back for a letter of support, which I did on letterhead, for his fact & science based work, to call attention to RBT in Okanagan Lake.

Jason & Keith also did the biologicals and creel for the past OK Lake derby, so we have some facts & science, to guide us, which, in part, Jim quotes.
June 14 posting:
For more of Jason's work, please see:
BC ECOCAT, key word "Webster"
Okanagan Angler 101:

Please take a look at the following Re: BC Freshwater Angler Economics, ie: "angler money talks".

There are a large number of BC freshwater anglers...some may find your views supportable...might be a good base of angling licence holders and/or taxpayers to build upon.

In 2003, as part of my relocation to the Okanagan process, from the lower mainland, I did a rough and ready unscientific business assessment of who had fisheries resource conservation management money, boots-on-the-ground, waders-in-the water.

I concluded, rightly or wrongly,  DFO & whatever MFLNRO ** was called then, were demonstrably getting out of that business.

leaving behind a token/skeleton crew, compared with 1980's, 1990's and early 2000's levels.
** see attached 2006 presentation by Dr. David Narver

respectfully: those left behind have done some remarkable work in spite of the increasingly diminishing support levels by their employer.

This has been partially achieved by drawing heavily on the annual funds available from the  Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF)  - funding for HCTF comes from licences fees paid by anglers & hunters.
please see the 2014-2015 Okanagan region projects funded ..and...the past 5-8 years Okanagan HCTF funded projects...Those funding allocation decisions, provides and insight into what work is funded from those licence fees, here & elsewhere.

In 2003, the only group, I could see, visibly, left with the capacity to do worthwhile, on-going & adequately funded, fact and science based fisheries resource conservation management work, and who continue to fund that work at increased levels, were the Okanagan Nation Alliance Fisheries Department...who have as central religious, cultural and social core values, the "shared" long term health of the fisheries do many passionate & responsible anglers.

The scope of ONA-FD fisheries resource conservation management work is spread throughout traditional Syilx territory, including Region 8 and Okanagan Lake.

11 years later, my initial 2003, albeit, crude assessment still stands...DFO & MFLNRO still struggle with ever diminishing funding and capacity (FTE's).

ONA-FD seem to be moving ahead with funded & concrete fisheries resource conservation management work.

In this regard, Mat, you and I appear mostly to be on the same page.


Good Fishing, Tight Lines & Conserve Our Waters

Yours in Conservation....for our children's children's children....for seven generations


Add to the previous list of crises to which money flowed

Closer to home:
1996 - 2006 Okanagan Lake Action Plan - est. $5.67 million, including est. $2.70 million from Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF), and funding from other sources, including in-kind.
Purpose: Studied: "....decline in [Okanagan Lake] kokanee during the 1970s through the 1990s..."
See: Table 2 & 3 (budget summaries)
As I understand it, OLAP as originally conceived, was to run for 20 years, but was ended after 10.

Again, FWIW.

Good Fishing, Tight Lines & Conserve Our Waters

Yours in Conservation....for our children's children's children....for seven generations


I've attached a very longgggggggggggggggg document (Historical Perspective of Fisheries 2006) for your reading pleasure (or not!) that was forwarded by Rick, it was far to long to put on here so maybe just save it to your computer and read at your leisure................Sherm