The annual Welcome the Kokanee festival Saturday at Hardy Falls Regional Park had park interpreters, information displays and kids’ activities. It was short just one thing – kokanee salmon.
“We’re thinking any day now people will start to see the first salmon,” said Risti Lesperance, park interpreter with the regional district.
Compared to other creeks coming off Okanagan Lake, Deep Creek is typically the first one in which people can see the brilliant red land locked Kokanee salmon spawn before dying.
Usually these fresh water cousins of the Sockeye salmon appear in Deep Creek around Aug. 21, but some years arrive earlier.
In 2016, the Kokanee began spawning in Deep Creek in July, prompting the Regional District to move the festival forward three weeks.
The main factor in determining when the salmon come into the creeks from Okanagan Lake to spawn is water temperature, said Lesperance.
If the creek water is too warm, it kills the eggs.
Often you can see salmon waiting at the mouth of the creek until they sense the temperature has dropped low enough and then they'll rush upstream to spawn, said Lesperance.
The Kokanee Festival Saturday proceeded without the salmon, with people learning about kokanee from park interpreters and watching for the red fish while walking the recently-reopened trail with 450 metres of resurfaced path and two new bridges.
Kids could spin the wheel of death and try their hand at gyotaku, the art of Japanese fish printing.
Aiden Dionne, 9, who was visiting from Summerland, learned the odds of a salmon making it through its whole life cycle are low when he spun the wheel of death, a roulette wheel that illustrates the dangers to the kokanee.
His first spin saw his salmon die of pollution. His second spin, the salmon was eaten by a trout.
Only one slot on the wheel resulted in the salmon living long enough to spawn before dying.
Lesperance couldn’t estimate how many kokanee salmon would be spawning in Deep Creek this year as the numbers fluctuate anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand fish.
“It’s a drastic drop from what has been in the creek,” she said. “Several decades ago, there were millions, now it’s just a few thousand.”
Lesperance said the drop is due to human interference and diking creeks.
She used Mission Creek, which has been diked and straightened, as an example.
“It has a huge impact on the fish,” she said. “All of which we’re now trying to correct,” she added.
Park interpreters will be at Hardy Falls, south of Peachland ,Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to help people learn about the life cycle of the kokanee until the end of September.
Interpreters will be at the Mission Creek Regional Park spawning channel on the weekend beginning Sept. 7.