Sockeye are the third most abundant of the Pacific salmon (behind pink and chum) and are a keystone in the North American commercial fisheries. They are also a popular in recreational fisheries. Sockeye salmon have a four-year lifecycle and are among the smallest of the five North American Pacific salmon species. Their succulent, bright-red meat is prized above all others. Like Chinook salmon, they are born in freshwater. However, sockeye require a lake nearby to rear in. Once hatched, juvenile sockeye usually remain in their natal habitat for two years; sometimes longer in colder waters located in northern climates. They then journey out to sea where they grow rapidly for two years, feeding mainly on zooplankton. Sockeye are known for their beauty, with bright silver flanks and contrasting dark blue backs, which is why the common name of Columbia River sockeye is “blueback.” Upon their return upriver to their spawning grounds, their bodies turn bright red with light specks on their backs and their heads take on a deep green color.
Sockeye populations in the Canadian Okanagan River Basin were historically abundant, but due to overharvest, habitat degradation, and blocking of critical spawning areas, sockeye salmon abundance declined in the 20th century. Grant PUD supports a long-term experimental program to reintroduce sockeye into Skaha Lake in British Columbia. This is a collaborative project between Grant PUD, Chelan PUD, the tribes of the Okanagan Nation Alliance, and other participants. As adults, these fish must travel 750 miles from the ocean, past nine major dams to reach their spawning grounds in the Okanagan River. Since 2004, Grant PUD has worked with its partners on this program to restore fish passage for salmon up the Columbia River system into the Okanagan Basin. This work has contributed to record sockeye returns for several of the past nine years and has opened new fishing opportunities and significant enjoyment for local residents.