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Oceola club calls for ban on fishing kokanee in Wood Lake

The Oceola Fish and Game Club is calling for an outright ban on kokanee fishing in Wood Lake until officials can determine why the numbers of spawning kokanee plunged last year in the popular Central Okanagan fishery.

Fish counts done by the Oceola Club last fall were drastically lower than in past years, prompting the club to make the motion at its annual general meeting last week.

“We’re quite concerned over the dip in kokanee numbers,” said Oceola Fish and Game Club vice-president Pat Whittingham.

“We don’t think that fishing is the number one contributor but until the situation is resolved, maybe every little bit would help.”

The Oceola Club operates a kokanee hatchery on Winfield Creek and also monitors flow levels on Middle Vernon Creek, one of the main stream spawning areas for Wood Lake.

Whittingham says this past fall the club wasn’t able to harvest nearly the number of eggs that it normally does for its hatchery.

“We just couldn’t find enough ripe fish,” he said of the club’s annual harvest of kokanee eggs.

“Normally we get 80,000 eggs and this year we harvested 20,000.”

There are a variety of theories surrounding the plunge in kokanee spawners last year such as an algae bloom that sucked oxygen from the lake, an increase in water usage by area residents, to higher than normal nutrient levels in the lake or a one-off fish kill due to factors such as the weather.

“Wood Lake is ranked as the best kokanee fishery in B.C. and it contributes a lot of money to the local economy,” said Whittingham, who noted anglers had noticed a drop off in fishing success for the last two seasons.

“The lack of fishing success over the last year and a half has pointed towards a decline in the lake and that’s a little bit frightening. We knew it was down and with the low return of shore spawners and stream spawners that was enough to set off a lot of alarm bells.”

Whittingham and the rest of the Oceola club decided to ask for an immediate stop to kokanee fishing in the lake in the hopes of avoiding another Wood Lake fishing crash, similar to one in the late 1970s.

As a boy growing up in Kelowna, Whittingham recalls his father catching kokanee up to six pounds before stocks plunged in the late 1970s. He says at the time fisheries biologists decided the Wood Lake kokanee fishery couldn’t be saved.

But the Oceola club stepped in and started its harvest of kokanee eggs and its work to bring the lake back.

“In the late ’70s and early ’80s, our club started to work on programs to get kokanee back in the lake,” he said.

“The kokanee found their niche in that ecosystem and did well. But we’ve known for years water flows in the lake have been a challenge with a lot of competing uses for every gallon of water. We’re supporting a fishing closure and only until kokanee fishing becomes sustainable with the next batch of fish coming up.”

The motion from the Oceola club will be forwarded to the provincial government, which is currently studying water levels on Wood Lake and can change the fishing regulations if needed.

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