For the first time in two years, hundreds of Penticton students gathered at Shingle Creek to release salmon fry into the Okanagan River channel on Thursday morning.
“This is our first public event with school groups since COVID. Schools have been raising fish fry in their classrooms and now they get to release them. We thank the teachers for bringing the students here today,” said Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel.
The fish release ceremony was organized by the Okanagan Nation Alliance and Penticton Indian Band. PIB members drummed in the fish, while elders offered prayers for their journey.
In the end, over 17,000 salmon fry were released.
Salmon are central to the wellbeing, culture, spirituality, sustenance, trade, and livelihoods of the Ktunaxa, Secwépemc, and Syilx Okanagan Nations and US Tribal relations.
Since time immemorial, Indigenous peoples gathered peacefully at major fishing sites along the Columbia River. Though many of these places are now drowned by dammed waters, Indigenous peoples still gather on the riverbanks to honour the spirit of the salmon and call them home.
“By working together with greater understanding and respect, we can fulfill our shared responsibilities to the salmon and ensure they return for generations to come,” said Okanagan Nation Alliance.
Since March, over 300,000 fry have been raised and released into the river, said Ryan Benson, fisheries biologist with ONA Fisheries.
Benson said Penticton saw a below-average sockeye run in the river in 2021.
“This spring we have low water levels, three-year drought conditions with low snowpack which could be a problem,” said Benson. It was a low spawning year in 2021.
Okanagan Lake is really low which is a concern for ONA Fisheries, said Benson.
“We are hopeful for a high adult run this fall,” he said. “Water temperatures are cool so we will manage accordingly,” he added.