Okanagan Chinook Restoration Program

Project Overview:

The Okanagan Chinook Restoration Program is a long-term effort to restore Okanagan chinook salmon, which include sk’lwist (summer-run salmon) spawning in the mainstem Okanagan River and ntitiyx (spring-run salmon) spawning in its tributaries.

sk’lwist primarily have a four-to-five-year life cycle.  They return to the Okanagan River as adults in July/August and spawn in October in the mainstem of the river. These fry emerge in the following spring and usually leave the basin within 3-6 months, though some remain up to a year. They then migrate to the ocean for 1-3 years and return to spawn again. The scientific description of this life history is a 4sub1 life history (spends one year of its life in freshwater).

Spring Chinook primarily have a four-year life cycle.  They return to the Okanagan River as adults in May/June, and spawn in early September in the tributaries of the basin. These fry emerge in the following spring and typically spend one year in the tributary or mainstem river or lake of the basin.  They then migrate to the ocean for 1-2 years and then return.  The scientific description of this life history is a 4sub2 life history (spends two years of its life in freshwater).

ONA has been monitoring live adult chinook and carcasses for over 15 years to gather information on abundance, distribution and biological population characteristics. Conservation status assessments for Okanagan sk’lwist were completed in 2006 and 2016 in collaboration with our communities and the En’owkin Centre. sk’lwist were designated as Threatened in 2006 and re-assessed as Endangered in 2016. ONA’s Okanagan Chinook Recovery Action Plan (2016) outlines recovery goals and proposes specific actions to achieve those goals.

Beginning in June 2017, juvenile hatchery-reared sk’lwist have been released into the Okanagan River annually to rebuild the population. Releases have ranged from 3,400 – 22,000 chinook. The eggs were provided by Chief Joseph hatchery and reared at ONA’s kł cp̓əlk̓ stim̓ hatchery in Penticton. In 2020, we were able to collect eggs from Chinook spawning in the Okanagan River for the first time. Juvenile chinook may spend several months to up to two years in the Okanagan River and lakes before migrating out through the Columbia River to the ocean. A portion of our hatchery-reared chinook receive Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags that enable biologists to track their movement and survival from release to return as spawners. In addition, ONA is undertaking a juvenile chinook survival study to identify possible areas and causes of low survival, as well as extensive habitat inventories aimed at protecting existing and restoring additional nursery habitats for juvenile chinook.

Until recently, ntitiyx observations in the Okanagan were rare. The Upper Columbia ntitiyx are listed as endangered in the U.S., which makes it difficult to move hatchery fry or eyed eggs into Canada for recovery. Local abundances in the Canadian Okanagan are currently too low to collect broodstock in Canada. However, Colville Confederated Tribes have been releasing experimental hatchery Methow Spring Chinook at locations in the U.S. Okanagan River since 2013. As returns in the U.S. Okanagan River increase, we anticipate that spring chinook will move upstream (stray – they tend to wander) into the Canadian tributaries to slowly repopulate their former range.  There are about 3-5 suitable tributaries in the U.S. Okanagan and 20-25 suitable tributaries in the Canadian Okanagan. ntitiyx observations have increased in recent years and ONA and its communities have seen ntitiyx in tributaries as far north as Whiteman Creek at the north end of Okanagan Lake. We are collaborating with Colville Confederated Tribes and the U.S. Geological Survey to monitor Okanagan tributaries for ntitiyx presence using Environmental DNA (eDNA) methods. It is hoped in time ONA will be able to collect broodstock from those tributaries to begin local recovery.

Project Goals:

To stabilize and rebuild the Okanagan chinook population, return them to their former habitat and range, and more broadly to revitalize the Okanagan Nation salmon fishery.

Project Plan:

1997 → ONA initiated and proposed recovery of Chinook into their historic range

2006 → Status Assessment by the Committee on Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) (Threatened)

2016 – Ten year COSEWIC re-assessment of population (Endangered)

2016 – kł cp̓əlk̓ stim̓ Hatchery (Penticton) modifications for summer Chinook incubation and early fry rearing; license review for adding Chinook (multi-species rearing)

2017 – Released 10,400 Chinook fry near McIntyre Dam

2018 – Released 3,400 Chinook fry near Oliver

2019 – Released 8,200 Chinook smolts near Oliver

2020 – Released 20,400 Chinook smolts near Oliver

2021 – Released 22,000 Chinook smolts and 6,137 Chinook fry at Okanagan Falls and Oliver

Project Documents:

2017 FAQ_OK Chinook Recovery

Project Progress/Status:


Project Team:

Team Lead – Elinor McGrath, ONA Biologist

Project Partnerships:

Colville Confederated Tribes

Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Penticton Indian Band

Osoyoos Indian Band