Photo: Chung Chow.
This summer, for the first time in three years, British Columbians may be able to buy BC sockeye salmon on the boat or in grocery stores.
Commercial fishers in British Columbia who have been shut out of the Fraser River sockeye fishery for the past three years are preparing for what could be a decent harvest.
Fraser River sockeye had the lowest returns on record in 2019 – just 590,000 – then broke that record in 2020 with just 398,000 fish returns.
Returns in 2021 were a little higher than expected – 2.5 million – but estimates came too late to allow trade openings.
Fisheries managers must let 1 million sockeye escape to spawn. So in 2019 and 2020, there were not enough Fraser River sockeye to even meet escapement goals.
But every four years Fraser sockeye tend to return in relative abundance, and this is expected to be one of those bountiful years.
This year’s pre-season forecast is for 9.8 million Fraser River sockeye, which would be more than enough to sustain trade openings.
“This is expected to be one of our best years back,” said Fiona Martens, head of fisheries management programs for the Pacific Salmon Commission (PSC).
“People are quite optimistic, and none of our data would indicate that they shouldn’t be optimistic right now.”
The lion’s share of this year’s Fraser River sockeye is expected to come from the summer and late summer runs.
The largest run is normally expected to be the late summer run, which includes Adams River sockeye. But early indications are that the summer run may actually eclipse the late summer run.
It’s still too early to tell if the summer and late summer runs will occur as expected, but test fisheries for early Fraser River Stuart sockeye, as well as Skeena River sockeye and Barkley Sound, look promising, said fisherman Greg Taylor. adviser to the Watershed Watch Salmon Society.
As of July 29, test fisheries reported 442,800 returns of Fraser River sockeye. Stuart’s first run – predicted at 105,000 – actually reached 230,000.
“The first Stuarts are really good – like huge,” Taylor said. “Much, much better than expected.”
“It certainly suggests we’re going to have a fishery this year,” he said.
Returns of sockeye salmon to the northernmost range — from Bristol Bay in Alaska to Barkley Sound on the west side of Vancouver Island — have been “phenomenal,” Taylor said.
“Skeena’s phenomenal – double – Barkley Sound was double, and the Fraser River looks OK,” Taylor said.
“Skeena is better than expected,” Martens said. “Nass is better than expected. I think Barkley (Sound) did better than expected, and there are areas in Washington State, like Baker Lake, that are better than expected. So a lot of those other sockeye returns are doing better than expected. »
Taylor suspects sockeye salmon are returning this year in relative abundance thanks to the La Nina system, which has cooled ocean temperatures for the past two years.
“We’re seeing a drop in ocean temperatures and we know that’s benefiting salmon,” Taylor said.
“As the water temperature increased, we saw salmon productivity plummet. We see things the other way now, and that bodes well not just for this year, but possibly for the next two years.
Despite relatively large returns of Skeena River sockeye salmon, Taylor said commercial fishers may not be able to fully exploit a total allowable catch (TAC) for this region as the commercial fishing industry in the North has been devastated after years of business closures.
“It’s an interesting story in itself — the collapse of the infrastructure in the north to the point that they can’t even catch the commercial allocation. They could catch half the TAC.
“Part of it is because there is absolutely no infrastructure left. This includes boats, processing, ice, and gillnetters are also facing new PSSI (Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative) rules in regarding how they fish.
“They’re not going to come close to catching the commercial TAC, and that’s because there’s a lack of fleet there now. There is no infrastructure left. They can’t even load the few boats they have fishing and bring them ice.
As for salmon species other than sockeye, pink salmon returns for the North Shore have been dismal, Taylor said.
“You go down from there to the top of Johnstone Strait, the real good news there, it looks like there are pink salmon there. northern Georgia Strait and Johnstone Strait.
Hatchery chinook for the west and east coasts of Vancouver Island appear to be quite plentiful, Taylor said, although wild spring chinook for the Fraser River appear to be doing poorly.