Hundreds attend milestone year for fry release ceremony at Penticton's Shingle Creek

Salmon fry sent off in style

Casey Richardson

Community members and school aged kids gathered along the Penticton channel riverbanks on Thursday for the 20th anniversary of the sockeye salmon fry release.

The annual Okanagan Nation Alliance release ceremony is part of an ongoing effort to revitalize the sockeye salmon population in local waterways and educate the public about the importance of culture and conservation.

The Fish in Schools program brought over 700 students from throughout the South Okanagan to release the salmon fry.

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel said that even though the event has been ongoing for 20 years, this was the largest he had seen to date.

"It's just a beautiful sight to see the children here, because they need to learn about these things. They are our future caretakers of the land and this is an important part of it," Gabriel said.

"The more we educate each other, the general public and even our own community members, it's going to make it easier for our future to survive, and especially things like our salmon, which is so important for our own people."

The ceremonies with the Syilx language, songs and prayers are a key part of the tradition and tool to educate the general public.

"This work is so extremely important now, especially with all of the challenges that we're facing, as people, climate change, weather events, it's always a challenge for the salmon to survive in these times, because of what's happening throughout our lands," Gabriel added.

The ONA doesn't just raise the fry to release into the lake. Their hatchery team works alongside stream restoration, rehabilitation and dam passage crews to make sure the fish have a solid habitat to return to.

Hatchery Biologist Tyson Marsel, said they had a decent year with 1.5 million fry on site to release throughout the Okanagan.

There were 20,000 fry released on Thursday at Shingle Creek and more to follow in the days to come to total 180,000 fry being released.

"So this is one of those alright years, where we're able to get that 1.5 million eggs but in past years, we had accessibility to as high as 5 million eggs and as low as 400,000 eggs so it's really variable year to year," he said.

The goal is to eventually have a wild sustainable salmon run all on its own.

Participants in the release used small cups and buckets to release the fry into the channel.

Many whispered to the fish to wish them a safe journey and return back home, an important part of the ceremony.

"I just hope the creator just guides all of the salmon that's been released, and brings them back to our community, so it can enjoy another feast, in the years to come," Gabriel said.

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