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Monster sockeye run starting to enter Fraser River

Everyone with a vested interest in sockeye salmon are holding their collective breath anticipating the upcoming 2014 fishery openings. DFO forecast a Fraser run of 23 million sockeye. - submitted
Everyone with a vested interest in sockeye salmon are holding their collective breath anticipating the upcoming 2014 fishery openings. DFO forecast a Fraser run of 23 million sockeye.
— image credit: submitted

Sockeye by the thousands could start swimming up the Fraser River shortly.

The prized red sockeye entering the river now are the offspring of the 2010 run — the largest sockeye return on the Fraser in the last 100 years.

This year is shaping up to be similar in scope, with a mid-range forecast by Fisheries and Oceans Canada officials set at 23 million sockeye. The bulk of it will be in the late run which includes the prodigious Adams River stock.

“The early Stuart run is just starting to enter the Fraser River,” said Jennifer Nener, DFO area director for the Lower Fraser. There were just a handful counted since test fishing started.

“We need considerably more data before considering any openings,” she said.

They’ll know more in a few short weeks.

Fishermen are checking their gear. Guiding outfits are hiring and booking like mad. Tackle stores are adding inventory. Many are watching the test fishery numbers with considerable interest.The computer modelling puts the estimated Fraser return total anywhere between about 7 million and 70 million sockeye.

Sto:lo fisher and Grand Chief Ken Malloway said he figures the 23 million estimate is on the

conservative side.

“I say it may be closer to 30 million,” he said. “I’m getting pretty anxious.”

The FSC fishery won’t open until the numbers in the river are higher, but they might also open the dry rack fishery at that time.

Regardless of the exact numbers, this season is going to have broad local impacts.

Aboriginal, commercial, and sport fishery opportunities for Fraser sockeye are all expected to open at various times this season.

One concern raised by conservation groups is the that the exploitation rate on Interior Fraser Coho will be going up to 16 per cent, from three per cent. The “exploitation” rate is the limiting of unintentional by-catch by commercial fishers to protect the endangered species. Coho and sockeye tend to co-migrate through the system, and get caught in the nets together.

It’s only for one year, said Nener, and the rationale for a higher rate is to better manage the sockeye and the coho. Coho numbers have improved.

“I’ve never seen it that high,” said Malloway about the increased rate of allowable by-catch.

But good sockeye returns this summer also mean economic benefits for different users.

Up to 23 Sto:lo communities are in negotiations to sign an agreement under the Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy.

“It’s going to mean that Sto:lo families should have enough fish, and also opportunities to make a living off fishing the way we used to,” said Malloway.

Ernie Crey, fisheries adviser to the Sto:lo Tribal Council, said the Early Stuart run, one component of the big Fraser run, could sustain aboriginal fisheries on a scale that no one has seen in a while.

Sto:lo fishing families are not only planning an earlier than usual dry-rack fishery in the Fraser Canyon, but also a food, social, and ceremonial (FSC) fishery.

“We have not had a general opening on the Early Stuart for a long time. The run has been generally weak,” he noted.

Economic opportunities for Sto:lo under AFS, meaning the chance to sell their catch, are likely coming for the Early Summer run, the first of four main runs on the Fraser.

Dean Werk, president of the Fraser Valley Salmon Society predicts there will be “lots of happy fishers” in all the user groups.

“We may never see a year like this again.”

It’s going to mean ample opportunities to get out on the river.

“People are excited to hear we are going to have some good returns,” he said. “Chilliwack and area has the most to gain from what we’re about to see.”

Fishing is a major economic driver for Chilliwack and area.

“Even at half the number they’re predicted, it’s still going to be good.”

Guides and other tourism-related businesses are poised to do well this season.

“This is the hub of it all,” said Werk, who also owns Great River Fishing Adventures.

He’s looking to hire more river guides.

“We’re booked solid and virtually sold out right now.”

From the Vedder Canal to Hope is where “the magic” is, he said. “People need to be in the gravel reach.”

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

twitter.com/chwkjourno

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