Dismal year for sockeye returns on the Fraser River

Current estimate for Fraser sockeye is at about 2.4 million fish, compared to the higher pre-season forecast of 6.8 million sockeye

Sockeye numbers on the Fraser River were pretty dismal this year

Sockeye numbers on the Fraser River were pretty dismal this year

When in-season Fraser River sockeye numbers don’t match expectations forecast by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, there are always implications.

There are no fishery openings on the Fraser for sockeye salmon right now, said Jennifer Nener, Lower Fraser area director for DFO.

“The numbers are low,” she said.

There have been recent openings for chinook, also known as spring salmon, for food, social and ceremonial purposes by First Nations, as well as recreational fishing opportunities for chinook.

But sockeye — not so much.

“We don’t have the abundance we were expecting,” Nener noted.

The current estimate of in season run size for Fraser sockeye is sitting at about 2.4 million, compared to the healthier pre-season forecast of 6.8 million sockeye.

The forecast is a range, she cautioned, meaning there is always “considerable uncertainty” along the way.

“What we plan around is the median,” Nener said.

Why were sockeye numbers so low?

There always discussion and debate about the possible reasons, but the role of unusually warm ocean conditions cannot be ignored.

“That has an impact on the whole food chain,” she said.  “But sockeye have a complex life cycle, so it’s hard to apply cause-and-effect.”

But low returning sockeye numbers always impacts a range of user groups.

“If affects people’s opportunity to fish, that’s the one people are most aware of,” she said. “It means limited fishing for food, social and ceremonial purposes for First Nations, and no recreational fishing opportunities targeting sockeye, or commercial openings.”

There are spinoffs to the local economy as well.

“It has implications for everyone, for First Nations, for recreational fishers, those who have businesses related to recreational fishing, as well as commercial. They would all feel it. It has been a year of opportunity.”