For thousands of years, the Sylix, or Okanagan, people of the Pacific Northwest have eaten the sockeye salmon of British Columbia’s Osoyoos Lake. The fish are known for their bright red skin, which starts showing as they prepare to spawn. In addition to their striking color, their meat also has its own distinct taste—described as a balance of light and rich, buttery flavors—compared to other kinds of salmon, thanks to their plankton-and-crustacean-heavy diet.
Sadly, due to factors such as overfishing and climate change, the local sockeye population experienced a major downturn some time ago that persisted until 2010. The population’s resurgence is thanks to an initiative started in 2003 by the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA), dubbed Kt cp’elk’ stim’ (Sylix for “cause to come back”). The initiative included efforts to re-outfit dams in order to allow the sockeyes’ passage, to clean up the water and make it more hospitable, and to incorporate indigenous cultural practices ranging from praying to feeding local eagles and owls. By 2010, it was clear that their efforts were paying off: For the first time in more than 75 years, the sockeye population was deemed sustainable and measured in the hundreds of thousands (according to estimates based on acoustic tags and catch figures).
The sockeye are only in season from July through part of September, but that’s if you want to cook a fresh catch. The fish are also served as candy, preserved with sugar, salt, and syrup.
Where to Try It
Okanagan Select Tasting Room Website105-3535 Old Okanagan Highway, Westbank, British Columbia, V4T 3L7, Canada
Affiliated with the Okanagan Nation Alliance, this store offers a free tasting that features multiple types of salmon (including cold-smoked and maple-smoked sockeye) from indigenous fishing groups. If any strike your fancy, they're also for sale.