Autumn Solomon, Okanagan Nation Alliance - Fish in Schools [FinS] – Columbia Coordinator, guiding students at J.A. Hutton Elementary through the initial delivery of Sockeye fry and their care and tank maintenance (Michael Zimmer/ Okanagan Nation Alliance).

Local students raise salmon in new program

The program typically runs from December to June

In February, students at John A. Hutton Elementary and Christina Lake Elementary schools welcomed sockeye salmon fry from the Okanagan Nation Alliance’s Hatchery into their classrooms as part of the FinS (Fish in Schools) program.

The very successful salmon recovery program has been going since 2003 in the Okanagan River. Now looking beyond the Okanagan River, the Okanagan Nation Alliance have been leading salmon reintroduction efforts in the mainstream Columbia River, and major tributary – the Kettle River. It has been nearly 80 years since salmon have returned from the ocean, and spawned in tributaries like the Kettle River, and Slocan and Salmo Rivers in the West Kootenay region. The cause of their extirpation (local extinction) has been the numerous, high-head hydro and flood control dams along the Columbia River mainstem.

According to Howie Wright, ONA Fisheries Program Manager “…salmon reintroduction and recovery is of the utmost importance to the Syilx/Okanagan Peoples, we are working at this from several angles including fish passage, donor stock selection, disease risk assessment, and community engagement which includes the FinS program.”

Work around salmon reintroduction is gaining momentum, with ONA partnering with numerous Columbia River School Districts, including School District 51, as part of the solution. Students now have a first-hand opportunity to raise salmon in the classroom in support of recovery and reintroduction. Each school is given 100 eggs or fry. Students are responsible for monitoring temperatures so they stay cool; regular feeding to ensure growth; and maintaining chillers, pumps and cleaning the tanks so water quality remains high and well oxygenated. Students are also responsible for tracking mortalities, which are an inevitability, and sheds light on the harsh realities out in nature.

Doug Lacey, SD51 Director of Learning, describes the opportunity as “…an exciting opportunity for our intermediate students to engage in experiential learning connected to environmental stewardship and Syilx/Okanagan traditional stewardship of the land.”

“We are so excited to have this opportunity in our school. In the first week we have had the most of our classes visit the ‘salmon classroom’ as it is now known. We’ve had students learning the salmon life cycle, creating art, learning more local geography and learning more about the indigenous history of our local areas,” said Jamie Stewart, Hutton Grade 5/6 teacher.

Another key element of the program is having a Syilx/Okanagan Knowledge Keeper or Elder come to each school and present the story of snk’lip (coyote) – the Columbia River salmon origin story; as well as stories on the past, present and future importance of the salmon to the Syilx/Okanagan Peoples and to other creatures and environments in the Syilx/Okanagan Territory. Other schools whom had piloted the program in the Columbia region have thoroughly enjoyed the program and used it as a catalyst to develop further curriculum, such as develop student-led projects on designing fish passage technologies for getting adult and juvenile salmon around the numerous high-head dams that they must overcome. Technology has come a long way in the last 15 years and passage around these dams is happening.

The program typically runs from December to June, which covers the eyed-egg, alevin (yolk-sac fry), and free-swimming fry life-stages. Near to the end of the school year in June, the ONA with re-take possession of the remaining fry. Fry are destined to be part of fry releases conducted by ONA. For more information on the ONA salmon recovery and reintroduction programs please visit: www.okanagannation.com.

To hear the pronunciation of : https://www.syilx.org/fisheries/hatchery/kl-cp%cc%93%c9%99lk%cc%93-stim%cc%93-hatchery-pronunciation/

For more information on the FinS program: https://www.syilx.org/events/fish-in-schools-fins/

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