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Dwindling kokanee

Low kokanee salmon numbers prompts early closure on Kootenay Lake
Red salmon, Kokanee
The Province is trying to boost dwindling numbers of kokanee salmon in Kootenay Lake.

Barry Coulter

The Province of B.C. has announced an early closure to the Kootenay Lake fishery, due to low numbers of kokanee salmon.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) said in a press release Tuesday that effective May 1, 2016, the kokanee sport fishery on the upper west arm of Kootenay Lake will be catch and release only for the remainder of the fishing season. Sport fishing will remain open, but anglers will have to release any kokanee they catch.

Kokanee are landlocked sockeye salmon and are second only to rainbow trout as the most popular game fish in B.C. The low kokanee population in Kootenay Lake has been a concern for the past couple of years. A number of public meetings have been held, but there is no firm consensus on the reason for the dwindling numbers of fish.

This spring, anglers landed fewer kokanee than usual in this part of the lake, which could be an indication that the overall numbers are down. The closure is a precaution aimed to support long-term kokanee conservation efforts.

Meanwhile, the Province is concerned with kokanee numbers throughout Kootenay Lake. Last fall, biologists counted 18,000 spawning kokanee in the main body of the lake and its tributaries, the lowest number since  the annual count started in 1979. Scientists estimate that the fish laid 4.26 million eggs, down from a high of 265 million eggs in 1981. The kokanee fishery in the main lake remains closed.

The Province has put together a team of experts to fast-track the creation of a five-year action plan to guide the recovery of Kootenay  Lake Kokanee stocks. The plan is currently being finalized and will be released shortly.

B.C. worked with First Nations, the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC and the BC Wildlife Federation to put together the advisory team and develop the plan.