Mike Armstrong

Fraser sockeye shun U.S. waters, fill B.C. nets

Warm water likely steered many more salmon to Canadian boats

A quirk of nature has handed B.C. commercial fishermen a huge catch of sockeye salmon this summer, while leaving their American counterparts almost empty handed.

Commercial fishing is winding down and the tally of the totes so far shows U.S. fishermen out of Washington State have caught barely 440,000 sockeye, a mere five per cent of the total Fraser-bound catch as of Friday.

By comparison, Canadian seiners, gillnetters and trollers, as well as First Nations and sports anglers, have caught a combined 7.9 million sockeye.

Americans had been allocated 1.8 million but haven’t come close to that quota because nearly all the Fraser sockeye have stayed out of U.S. waters by running down the east side of Vancouver Island via Johnstone Strait.

It’s not that the salmon have been patriotic about sticking to the all-Canadian migration route.

Pacific Salmon Commission chief biologist Mike Lapointe says warm ocean temperatures likely mean Fraser sockeye ranged further into the Gulf of Alaska and then, on their homeward migration, made landfall further north than usual up the B.C. coast.

A normal year sees Fraser sockeye flow more evenly around Vancouver Island, with significant numbers going down the west side where Americans can fish in Juan de Fuca Strait.

But since early August more than 98 per cent have taken Johnstone Strait.

“It’s very unusual,” Lapointe said, adding it’s been hard on American fishermen because Fraser sockeye “just aren’t swimming through their waters.”

The closest U.S. boats can get to the Canadian fishing frenzy is the U.S. water off Point Roberts, where BC Ferries passengers near Tsawwassen have been able to spot American boats fishing steadily.

Lapointe said unusual Fraser sockeye catches in southeast Alaska and off Haida Gwaii have been strong evidence of a more northerly landfall this year, with many more fish funnelled into Johnstone Strait.

The total Fraser sockeye run size is estimated at 20.7 million this year – very close to the mid-range pre-season estimate.

Lapointe said dangerously warm river temperatures have cooled, returning sockeye appear to be in good shape and plenty of fish are reaching the spawning grounds – all factors that bode well for a good run in 2018.

He said an unusual number of returning sockeye have been caught with either lamprey eels sucking on them or evidence of lamprey marks, but that doesn’t seem to have killed many.

Lampreys can survive in fresh water so “they can latch onto a sockeye in Georgia Strait and hang onto it and ride it right up the river.”

Unlike some recent years when the fleet was sidelined because the run was too small to fish, this year’s sockeye return – though short of a record – gave all groups of fishermen repeated openings.

“This is the biggest run of the four-year cycle,” Lapointe said. “In many ways it’s the one-in-four year opportunity these guys get.”

Some commercial sockeye fishing was allowed last year, when about four million salmon returned to the Fraser, after a shutdown in 2012.

Fishery managers are hopeful Fraser sockeye are gradually rebuilding since the disastrous 2009 run when just 1.6 million sockeye returned, triggering the Cohen Inquiry.

Lapointe said most fishing could be halted by next week to protect weaker coho salmon stocks.

One stock that returned weaker than was hoped was the Cultus Lake sockeye, where fewer than 300 fish have come back. “That’s definitely a concern,” Lapointe said.

WHO CAUGHT THE FISH? | Create Infographics

Surrey North Delta Leader

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Claiming she has COVID-19, stranger coughs in Cloverdale woman’s face

Clayton Heights woman will now self-isolate for the next two weeks

Police watchdog finds cops blameless for deaths in 2019 Surrey hostage-taking

Woman was killed as ERT officers fired on man holding a knife to her throat and ‘what appeared to be’ a gun in his hand

No, Delta police are not pulling over cars to check for social distancing

DPD dispelling rumour cops pulling over vehicles with two or more people, checking IDs, issuing fines

White Rock/South Surrey experts launch website of mental-health resources

Together White Rock/South Surrey aims to help ease the search for supports

B.C. couple celebrates 61st anniversary through seniors’ home window

Frank and Rena Phillips marked occasion at Nanaimo Seniors Village this week while social distancing

World COVID-19 update: Six million U.S. jobless claims; Russia sends medical aid to U.S.

Comprehensive update with COVID-19 news from around the world

A look at some of the B.C. inventors creating life-saving tools in fight against COVID-19

Groups across B.C. are working together to create what they hope will help people affected by the pandemic

Association launches French-language games, online tools for families learning at home

Games, culture and vocabulary included in new virtual resources

‘There can be no ambiguity’: Travellers brought home to B.C. must self-isolate

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the mandatory isolation must be abided by

55+ BC Games cancelled amid COVID-19 concerns

Greater Victoria set to host 2021 event

BC Hydro offers three-month bill ‘holiday’ for those affected by COVID-19

Industrial customers can defer half of their power bills

VIDEO: Dog missing in Lower Mainland since winter sees his family again for the first time

Aldergrove helped find Buster, says dad, who has now witnessed ‘the power of social media’

Some April Fool’s Day jokes bring much-needed laughter; others tone deaf to COVID-19

Police are warning the public not to use the ongoing pandemic as a punchline

Most Read