Bad sockeye run has salmon watchers worried

Fraser return of 2.4 million sockeye far less than forecast, bycatch from pink salmon fishery now a risk

Any Fraser River sockeye salmon that come up in commercial fishing nets this year are likely to be taken as a bycatch in an upcoming pink salmon fishery.

Any Fraser River sockeye salmon that come up in commercial fishing nets this year are likely to be taken as a bycatch in an upcoming pink salmon fishery.

Conservationists are urging continued vigilance to protect returning sockeye salmon as the Fraser River run comes in at levels far below what was forecast.

The latest estimate pegs the run size at 2.4 million salmon, barely a third of the 6.8 million mid-range projection of fishery managers.

Commercial fishing that was anticipated for August never happened because of the low returns. About 150,000 sockeye have been taken in First Nations food fisheries.

“We don’t have the abundance we were expecting,” said Jennifer Nener, Lower Fraser area director for DFO.

Unusually warm ocean temperatures over the past two years are thought to have reduced the food supply in the North Pacific for the sockeye now returning, and exposed them to more predators usually found further south.

On top of that, the salmon that have made it back to the Fraser have had to battle dangerously hot river temperatures and low stream levels as a result of this summer’s drought and last winter’s record low snowpack.

Watershed Watch Salmon Society commercial fishery adviser Greg Taylor is concerned far fewer of the stressed salmon that get past Mission will survive to reach their spawning grounds this year and effectively breed.

Last summer, 1.7 million late-run sockeye that were counted as having gone upriver never reached the spawning beds and Taylor fears a repeat is in store.

“This is nowhere near the 2009 debacle,” he said, referring to the sockeye collapse that triggered the Cohen Inquiry. “But this is not a very good scenario.”

Now, a large number of pink salmon are beginning to enter the river – that run size is projected at 14.5 million.

Commercial fishermen who have been barred from the sockeye fishery are expected to want to catch as many pinks as possible.

But seine boats that net up pinks in the weeks ahead could end up killing late-running sockeye as a bycatch.

Late sockeye returns are down sharply from a forecast 1.24 million to an estimated 300,000.

Commercial boats fishing for pinks would be directed to release sockeye that are caught but Taylor is skeptical many netted sockeye would survive after being tossed back.

“You’ve got to have extremely good compliance, you’ve got to have good fishing techniques in terms of handling those fish and you’ve got to have observers on board,” he said.

“I know people want to get at those pinks and we’re not saying no pink fishing. But there are real concerns about that fishery.”

Sports fishing for Fraser sockeye has also been banned this summer and there’s been growing pressure on some anglers who claim to fish for other species but use bottom bouncing or “flossing” techniques to snag sockeye that don’t normally bite a hook.

RELATED:Anglers asked to fish selectively to avoid sockeye

Taylor, a former commercial fisherman, thinks DFO should cut off all river bank fishing when sockeye is non-retention due to conservation concerns and recreational anglers refuse to use more selective methods.

But he doesn’t believe fishery managers have the political will to enforce such a policy.

“I’m appalled,” Taylor said, adding such blatant disregard of regulations by the commercial fleet would never be tolerated. “They know people are not complying. If they knew a significant component of the commercial fleet was not complying with the regulations, that fishery would be shut down. That’s a big-time double standard there.”

Pink salmon that are ocean “ranched” – raised by hatcheries and let loose to forage at sea – by Alaska, Russia and Asian countries are also thought to be a problem for sockeye in the North Pacific, where the pinks compete for food.

Alaskan fisheries in Prince William Sound are expected to net a record 100 million pinks this year, a reflection of the massive number of pink fry the U.S. state sends out to sea.

“You just can’t keep on pumping out artificially propagated fish into the North Pacific at a time when habitats may be becoming constrained because of warm water, climate change and other issues,” Taylor said.

– with files from Jennifer Feinberg, Chilliwack Progress

Just Posted

Dooris Raad was last seen in South Surrey’s Ocean Park neighbourhood on June 7. (Surrey RCMP photo)
Lorraine Gibson, 90, received a COVID-19 immunization at the South Surrey Park and Ride vaccination clinic. (File photo: Aaron Hinks)
Surrey has had 25% of B.C.’s total COVID-19 cases

Surrey recorded 4,012 cases in May

Scales of Justice, Image courtesy Creative Outlet
Scales of Justice, Image courtesy Creative Outlet
Teacher’s elbow injury case against Surrey School District, WorkSafeBC struck by judge

Judge says processes put in place by legislation, collective agreement must be followed

Doris Anderson’s digital triptych Aberration, which she is marketing as an NFT.
Semiahmoo Peninsula abstract painter dives into NFT market

Works sold as one-of-a-kind digital files

Vancouver law courts. (File photo)
Surrey murderer loses appeal in 2011 Christmas eve shooting in Newton

Bradley McPherson, 28, was shot in the back of the head during an after-hours house party

t
How to tell if a call from ‘CRA’ is legitimate or a scam

Expert says it’s important to verify you really are dealing with the CRA before you give out any info

British Columbia-Yukon Community News Association’s 2021 Ma Murray Awards were handed out during a virtual ceremony on Friday, June 10. (Screen grab)
Black Press Media winners take gold at B.C. and Yukon journalism awards

Publications received nods in dozens of categories

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets campers while visiting McDougall, Ont. on Thursday, July 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
71% of B.C. men say they’d prefer to go camping with Trudeau: survey

Most British Columbians with plans to go camping outdoors say they’d prefer to go with Trudeau or Shania Twain

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

Chilliwack cocaine trafficker Clayton Eheler seen with a tiger somewhere in Asia in 2014. Eheler was sentenced to nine years jail in 2018, but was released on bail in October 2020 pending his appeal of conviction.(Facebook)
Director of civil forfeiture seeks $140,000 from Fraser Valley drug dealer’s father-in-law

Clayton Eheler’s father-in-law Ray Morrissey caught with money in Fort St. John by B.C.’s gang unit

A Comox Valley shellfish operator pleaded guilty and was fined $10,000 in provincial court in Courtenay earlier this year. Record file photo
B.C. clam harvester fined $10,000 for Fisheries Act violations

Charges against three others were stayed in Courtenay Provincial Court

Frank Phillips receives a visit from his wife Rena at Nanaimo Seniors Village on their 61st wedding anniversary, March 31, 2020. Social visits have been allowed since COVID-19 vaccination has been offered in all care homes. (Nanaimo News Bulletin)
B.C. prepares mandatory vaccination for senior care homes

180 more cases of COVID-19 in B.C. Friday, one more death

The arrest south of Winnipeg occurred before Bernier was to arrive at a protest in the city. (Twitter/Maxime Bernier)
Maxime Bernier arrested following anti-rules rallies in Manitoba: RCMP

He’s been charged with exceeding public gathering limits and violating Manitoba’s requirement to self-isolate

Cruise ship passengers arrive at the port of Ketchikan, Alaska in 2018. Cruise lines have begun booking passengers for trips from Seattle to Alaska as early as this July, bypassing B.C. ports that are not allowed to have visitors until March 2022 under a Canadian COVID-19 restrictions. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire)
B.C. doesn’t depend on U.S. law to attract cruise ships, Horgan says

Provinces to get update next week on Canada’s border closure

Most Read