The Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) operates a state-of-the-art $8 million sockeye salmon hatchery, just outside Penticton, in southern British Columbia, Canada.
“We are building a state-of-the-art program for sockeye enhancement,” says Richard Bussanich (Masters in Marine Sciences from the University of Guelph). The Okanagan Nation Alliance constructed the 25,000 square foot gravity-fed hatchery as a key part of the Okanagan Sockeye Reintroduction Plan. It’s a 12-year trans border project led by the ONA, that combines water management, habitat restoration, dam passages and fish enhancement.
It was new to DFO that a First Nations group would own a sockeye hatchery of this size and are doing it for enhancement purposes. We’re not raising fish to sell,” notes Lawrence. “And it’s not costing Canadians a cent,” adds Bussanich. Funds for the hatchery have come entirely from the Public Utility Departments of Grant and Chelan Counties, in Washington State, as part of their Columbia River dam mitigation commitments.
The Okanagan Nation Alliance represents eight “Syilx” or “Okanagan” communities around the Okanagan Basin, including the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington State, on stewardship issues.
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Shayla Lawrence is a member of the Okanagan Indian Band, one of the Eight Nation members of the ONA. With a degree in Animal Biology, from the University of British Columbia, she worked on the ONA’s initial hatchery program in Lumby, BC. Richard Bussanich, with a Masters in Marine Sciences from the University of Guelph, has worked from “Sacramento to the Aleutians.” Most recently, he was involved with projects for the Nisga’a First Nation, in the Nass River Valley.
Site for sockeye
“We were outgrowing the site and needed a facility that was more dedicated to the specific needs of sockeye,” explains Shayla Lawrence. Bussanich adds that their technicians have been working on every aspect of the program at a DFO facility for the past eight years. “The only thing that is changing is the location, the water source and the building.”
The new building will be following the strict ‘Alaska Sockeye Protocols’, to cater to these IHNV-susceptible salmonids. “We are aiming for a ‘no-touch system,’” explains Lawrence.
“This is the only operation that I know of that is gravity-fed start to finish,” adds Bussanich. “It goes from when the eggs are dropped into the Kitoi boxes, until they swim out into Shingle Creek.” Only hatchery staff will be allowed in the building during growing season and strict disinfection procedures will be followed.
Diet will be Bio Vita Starter, with krill to start. But Bussanich is very excited about a feed they are currently testing. “We are working on formulating and testing feed using the Okanagan Lake Mysis shrimp. Currently, they are being sold to the home aquarium market and we are developing a formula to use them here.”
Mysis shrimp were intentionally introduced into Okanagan Lake in 1966 as a potential feed source to enhance Kokanee sport fishery. The shrimp population has exploded, while Kokanee stocks have declined and the shrimp are now suspected of competing with Kokanee fry for food. There is a provincially sponsored harvest to cull this invasive species.
—Tom Walker (edited by Rob Wilson)