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Classrooms to the creek: Kelowna salmon restoration release

The annual Sockeye Fry Release Ceremony was held on May 8

Hundreds gathered at Mission Creek on Wednesday, May 8, for the annual Sockeye Fry Release Ceremony.

This year marks a milestone of two decades of dedicated efforts to conserve and restore sockeye salmon populations in the Okanagan.

The event brought together community members from the Okanagan Indian Band, West Bank First Nations and Syilx Okanagan Nation, as well as about 150 children from the Central Okanagan School District.

Tyson Marsel is a hatchery biologist who works with the Okanagan Nation Alliance’s FinS (Fish in Schools, previously S2S-Stream to Sea) in-class program.

“The FinS Program is a program where we work with the schools in the Okanagan, to bring salmon to they can raise these eggs, from eggs all the way up to fry. And, then they can come and release the fry into Mission Creek,” said Marsel.

The release is hosted by the Syilx Okanagan Nation Alliance and works to re-establish sc’win populations in the territory. This will not only support long-term sustainability of sockeye salmon populations and the ecosystems they but contribute to both food security and cultural revitalization for Sylix people.

Named nxwaqwaʔstn in the traditional language, Mission Creek is the primary contributor to Okanagan Lake and supplies one-third of the lake’s annual inflow.

However, the health of the creek is in “peril” said the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA).

“Once stretching wide and free, the creek’s channel has shrunk from 120 meters to a mere 30 meters. Its length in the valley bottom has dwindled from 33 kilometres to just 12 kilometres, resulting in a staggering 75 per cent loss of floodplain habitat,” said the ONA.

However, efforts are underway by the Mission Creek Restoration Initiative partners, to reclaim and revitalize the ecosystem, including the annual sockeye fry release.

According to Marsel, salmon is one of the four food chiefs for the Syilx people.

“Both culturally and environmentally salmon is important, they are a huge backbone for a lot of the stuff that is involved in the environment. All of the nutrients they put back into the system and nutrients they provide for the people, salmon are a huge part of it. So, respecting and bringing ceremony into the salmon release is a huge part of it,” said Marsel.

Having youth involved in the release through the FinS Program, instills knowledge and values related to sockeye salmon conservation as well as schools

play a role in shaping responsible and environmentally conscious citizens.

“We hope that this will spark an interest at a young age where these students will hopefully grow ponder and eventually want to go into that scientific world and maybe be a part of that difference we are making today,” explained Marsel.

So far this year, about 650,000 fish have been released into Mission Creek and specific to Wednesday’s release 3,500 fish will be placed into the creek.

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