Kokanee spawning in Mission Creek, Hardy Falls this month

Kokanee drawing crowds

Thousands of kokanee salmon have been making the annual trip up Mission Creek to spawn in recent weeks, attracting Central Okanagan residents to witness the fascinating event.

The kokanee salmon spends its entire life in freshwater, and locally, they call Okanagan Lake and Wood Lake home. Beginning in late August and early September, the fish begin their long journey, up Kelowna's Mission Creek and Peachland's Hardy Falls, to lay and fertilize the eggs of the next generation.

“The kokanee being here is just a miracle,” says Nicole Kittmer, park interpreter with the Regional District of the Central Okanagan. “Being a keystone species, they have a huge significance for the ecosystem, but they have cultural significance and recreational significance.”

With Mission Creek itself being impacted by human development over the decades, a 0.8-kilometre spawning channel was built beside Mission Creek

This year, Kitmer says they saw good numbers of fish in Mission Creek during the first few weeks of spawning, but peak numbers came early, and numbers have started to decline.

“We're not quite where we'd like to be as far as our numbers. The amount of fish that have already spawned and died is quite surprising to see,” Kittmer said. “Last year was wonderful, we had our best numbers in our recent recorded history for the kokanee salmon, so this is a bit of a disappointment.”

The kokanee, a food source for local bears and birds, is considered a keystone species, due to its disproportionately large effect on its ecosystem. This year, four bears have been feasting out near the Environmental Education Centre for the Okanagan at Mission Creek.

“They need this fish to survive winter, it's a protein source for them. We also have orchards above us so they're feasting on all the fruit up there,” Kittmer said. “There's a mom and two cubs and another adult bear. People are reporting them all day every day, so we just ask people to give them their space, we'd like to be able to keep the park open.”

Despite the bears, below-average numbers of kokanee and a global pandemic, the RDCO is still hosting weekend information sessions both at Mission Creek and Hardy Falls for those interested in learning more about the kokanee's journey.

“We have touchables to learn about the different life cycle portions of the salmon and we're just available to answer questions, or to explain the behaviour you're seeing in the creeks,” Kittmer said.

Additionally, the RDCO is holding online virtual programs for school children.

“If you're in a classroom and just like your Zoom meetings from the school year prior, we can do a Zoom meeting too. We've got footage and we'll have an interpreter live with your students answering questions,” Kittmer said.

“We've adapted, we've gone way above and beyond ... it's a huge learning curve for everyone, but it's been a lot of fun. The technology learning has been fun and seeing people in a different venue has been fun.”

Kittmer says with the early peak in numbers, she expects the spawning to be wrapped up by Thanksgiving this year. 

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