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.

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

Suspects charged after police incident by golf course

Mission and Maple Ridge RCMP combined forces to arrest two men

Mobile complaint clinic coming to Langley Feb. 9

The B.C. Ombudsperson is touring cities, taking complaints against the provincial government

UPDATE: Tsunami warning cancelled for coastal British Columbia

Warning issued following 7.9 earthquake off Kodiak, AK

‘Restless night’ for Semiahmoo First Nation after tsunami warning

Alaska earthquake puts Semiahmoo First Nation on notice

Mission RCMP recover 22 stolen vehicles and several firearms

Charges are still pending after police search two separate properties

Tsunami warnings 101: Canada

Here are some things to know about tsunami alerts in Canada and how they work

Castlegar homicide victim identified

The victim was 38-year-old Jordan Workman of Castlegar, B.C.

B.C. Liberal leadership candidates get one last prime-time pitch

Leadership campaign to be decided in Feb. 3 vote

Homeless evicted from First Nation reserve land say they have nowhere to go

‘Why not just let us stay until spring?’ one camper at Chilliwack site pleads

Andrew Scheer on trade, Trump and Trudeau

Canada’s Conservative leader begins three-day visit to B.C.

Victims restrained, sex toys and cash stolen from B.C. adult store

Armed suspects sought in adult store robbery

UPDATED: 10 Safeways in Lower Mainland to close

Locations in Vancouver, Burnaby, Surrey, Coquitlam, Richmond and Mission slated to shut

Vancouver Islanders ponder need for tsunami siren song

Alarm sounds in Port Alberni but not at the DND base in Esquimalt

Five charged in bid to shut pop-up pot market in Vancouver’s Robson Square

Marijuana flower, edibles, money and some weapons were seized as part of weekend raid

Most Read