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Letter: The search for kokanee shoal spawners

To The Editor:

Most Kootenay residents are familiar with the brilliant red color that the kokanee salmon turn in the fall when they are spawning in creeks and rivers in the area. But did you know that kokanee can also be found spawning along the beaches of some of our lakes? These type of kokanee are called shoal spawners, and are found scattered throughout the West Arm of Kootenay Lake. The Columbia Operations Fisheries Advisory Committee (COFAC) is looking for help identifying the location of shoal-spawning kokanee on the Kootenay Lake.

Previous work by COFAC has demonstrated that the implementation of Kootenay Lake operational changes in the fall can reduce the dewatering of shoal-spawning kokanee redds, or fish nests, that are created when the fish spawn. Additional work by COFAC has found that these West Arm shoal-spawning kokanee are genetically distinct from West Arm tributary-spawning kokanee. These findings are of particular importance in years of peak spawning, which occurs every three years; 2018 is one of those peak-spawning years.

In order to increase the spawning success of these unique fish, hydroelectric system operators draw down the lake levels to 531 metres (1742 feet) at Queen’s Bay for a one-month period. The lower water level during the mid-September to mid-October spawning period results in the fish depositing their eggs at a lower elevation on the shoals. The reservoir will then be allowed to fill again for the winter. In spring, when the kokanee are emerging from their eggs and when the reservoir is drawn down to make room for spring melt, the expectation is that fewer redds will be stranded, resulting in a higher survival rate of the eggs deposited by shoal spawning kokanee.

Representation on COFAC comes from provincial and federal fisheries regulators, Indigenous communities and hydroelectric operators from the Columbia and Kootenay River systems in Canada. The advisory committee also provides a structured forum for the exchange of information regarding the coordination of activities related to the operation of hydroelectric projects that are relevant to fisheries.

If you see kokanee spawning on the lake shore, call the B.C. Fish and Wildlife Branch at 250-354-6333 and report approximately how many kokanee you see, and the precise location where you saw them on the lake.

Thank you, Maureen Grainger, Environmental Program Lead, FortisBC