The spawning channel near Meadow Creek, at the north end of Kootenay Lake, typically accommodates up to half a million spawning kokanee each year, with more than 40 million eggs being deposited in the gravel.
Such large numbers do not go unnoticed, especially by the grizzly bears that frequent the area. As a result, to both protect the bears and the humans who come to see the red spectacle, the channel, jointly operated by the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program (FWCP) and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO), will be open for viewing from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day, when bear activity is at its minimum. The gates will be closed at all other times. The Ministry may order a temporary total closure to the public if there are future human-bear conflicts at the channel.
“It certainly is an issue of safety, both for the bears that feast on the kokanee, and for the people who come to view the fish,” says Matt Neufeld, fisheries biologist with FLNRO. “In the past we have had several human-bear conflicts, when we have had to close the channel to the public for several days; this year we want to be proactive, reduce the risk of such conflicts, and keep the channel open for public viewing as much as possible.”
The kokanee spawning run lasts from late August to early October, with the peak time for viewing the kokanee usually occurring during the first two weeks of September.
The 3.3 km looping spawning channel was the largest of its kind in the world when it was built in 1967 with BC Hydro funds, compensating for upstream spawning habitat lost due to the construction of Duncan Dam. To this day the channel continues to play a vital role for kokanee; it accounts for about 75 per cent of total kokanee fry production in Kootenay Lake.
In addition to the daily opening times, the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program and FLNRO are hosting an Open House at Meadow Creek Spawning Channel on Sunday September 8 between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
The free family event provides a great opportunity to talk to biologists, and view the fish at (or near) the peak of their run. ‘Bear Smart’ information will also be provided, and the limnologist (freshwater specialist) will be on site to answer questions about the Nutrient Restoration Program in Kootenay Lake.
“Since 1992 the FWCP and the Ministry have been adding nutrients to Kootenay Lake, and it is widely viewed as one of the most successful large-lake restoration projects in the world,” said Compensation Program public representative, Grant Trower. “It helps the kokanee which is considered a keystone species and important prey for predator fish; the Gerrard rainbow and bull trout thrive here because of the bountiful kokanee.”
The FWCP is a partnership between BC Hydro, the Province of B.C., First Nations and local community groups to conserve and enhance fish and wildlife and their supporting habitats affected by the creation of BC Hydro owned and operated generation facilities in the Columbia region.
The spawning channel is located approximately four kilometres northwest of Meadow Creek off Highway 31. For more information about the Open House or the new viewing hours phone 250-354-6333.