WELL this is embarrassing.
When a press release landed in my inbox a few months back about Oliver-area winery Tinhorn Creek getting certified as "Salmon Safe" I figured that was probably a given, since the winery is in a desert . . . in the Okanagan. Everyone knows salmon are a coastal fish, swimming up rivers, streams and byways here and up the coast. The only way Interior residents could get salmon, I reasoned, was by delivery truck.
So I was surprised to find out that the salmon I was eating for dinner last week at Watermark Beach Resort in Osoyoos came from the same sparkling lake that the resort butts up against.
It turns out there have always been native salmon species in the Okanagan. They make an incredible 1,000-kilometre journey from the mouth of the Columbia River where it bisects the states of Washington and Oregon, up the Columbia River, into the Okanagan River system.
Hydro-electric dams on the Columbia and man-made adjustments to the river channels between the lakes, such as the Penticton Channel, gradually blocked the fish from returning to their spawning grounds. A decade ago, the number of salmon returning were down to a few thousand.
Which makes it all the more incredible that this year, approximately 500,000 sockeye salmon are expected in the Okanagan River system. A recent press release from the Vancouver-based Pacific Salmon Foundation gives credit to a dedicated team of eight member communities known as the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) for its work in recent years to restore sockeye abundance to numbers not seen since 1923.
Which is why, after tucking into a Truffled Rocket Salad - a decadent arrangement of arugula tossed in a truffle vinaigrette, then garnished with B.C. blue cheese, vanilla poached pear and candied walnuts - I was able to enjoy wild salmon, caught in Osoyoos Lake.
Watermark executive chef Jonas Stadtlander gets to work the outdoor barbecue on the resort's patio in the summer months, and it's there that he grills the succulent fish (along with seasonal veggies, corn on the cob and potatoes) then drizzles it in a local berry gastrique.
A glass of crisp Gehringer Brothers Dry Riesling from the all-Okanagan wine list made it even better.
For Watermark guests who want to do more than enjoy the bounty of the lake from the patio or wine bar, the resort is offering a special Watermark Fishing Excursion package until Aug. 31. Guided by both a sports fisherman, and representative from the ONA, eager fisherman will experience the thrill of witnessing the largest sockeye return in decades whilst learning about the traditions and culture behind these very precious fish.
Each guest can legally catch and keep two salmon. Any beyond that are given to ONA to sell at a daily market at the Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre where along with the fish, fresh and organic produce will be available. Proceeds will keep this fishery alive.
Rates for the package - which includes one night of accommodation and a four-hour fishing tour for two people - start from $409 based on double occupancy.
For more information or for reservations, visit www. watermarkbeachresort.com.
As for Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, it turns out that the certification they received from the Pacific Salmon Foundation is a big deal. One of the first wineries to do it, being Salmon Safe means passing a rigorous assessment of their environmental practices. Find out more at salmonsafe.org.