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

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

Just Posted

Emergency crews in Chilliwack were called to a report of a vehicle down an embankment at Chipmunk Creek on April 18, 2021, at about 4 p.m. (Google Maps)
Chilliwack emergency crews respond to vehicle down embankment at Chipmunk Creek

Search and Rescue join other responders to report of person trapped in vehicle for hours

Alisa Gusakova was one of two Grade 12 Chilliwack students who received a $5,000 Horatio Alger Canadian Scholarship earlier this year. Now, a fundraiser has been created for the teen after her mother was killed. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Fundraiser launched for daughter of Chilliwack woman killed

Money raised will help Chilliwack teen attend UFV to earn business degree

Chilliwack Search and Rescue volunteers say that a call on April 17 on Vedder Mountain was affected by bikers who rode through the rescue site, throwing rocks onto members and the patient. (Chilliwack Search and Rescue image)
Chilliwack Search and Rescue team, and patient, sprayed with rocks and dirt during rescue

Volunteer crew speaks out after riders on Vedder Mountain show no courtesy at accident scene

Agassiz Fire Department has been called to an ATV rollover on Harrison East Forest Service Road on Sunday, April 18, 2021. (Google Maps)
Agassiz Fire called out to ATV rollover incident on Harrison FSR

Morning call follows exceptionally busy Saturday as temperatures soar in Fraser Valley

A Chilliwack Search and Rescue truck heads down Vedder Road towards Cultus Lake to assist a dirtbiker with a broken leg. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Emergency crews, SAR busy with three separate outdoor recreation incidents in Chilliwack area

Calls in 1 afternoon include ATV collision, parachuter who fell from tree, dirtbiker with broken leg

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

File photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
One man dead after shooting in Downtown Vancouver

This is Vancouver’s fifth homicide of the year

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country's crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of April 18

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Most Read