High water temperatures in the Fraser River are always a concern when it comes to wild sockeye survival.
Everyone from the commercial fleet to recreational fishers are waiting to see if the summer run is going to be big enough to sustain sockeye openings by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
The summer run, the largest group of sockeye salmon stocks on the Fraser, is on its way, but delayed in making a run for spawning grounds up-river.
Pre-spawn mortality in recent years has become anathema to those working toward salmon survival.
This is the year sockeye runs are coming back from the 2009 cycle, when they had the lowest returns on record for Fraser sockeye, said Les Jantz, DFO area director for the B.C. Interior.
There were less than 2 million sockeye that year, with a return of only 1.5 million, when they’d been predicting 10 million.
That sockeye crash was actually the catalyst for the creation of the Cohen Commission inquiry into the missing fish.
“We did achieve reasonable escapements that year,” Jantz said, adding there was good survival in the marine environment.
“We saw it for the early summer runs and are now waiting to see if we’ll see a continuation of those survival rates.”
So the pre-season estimate was for more than 4.5 million fish.
In-river water temperatures are key, since sustained heat can impact survival rates.
“It is a concern right now,” he told The Progress Tuesday.
They use that data to predict en route pre-spawn losses or mortalities.
The predictions for the early summer run return saw a modest increase, and what happens with the summer run will determine if DFO provides any opportunities for harvesting, about those fish they allow to escape to spawning grounds, for conservation reasons.
But any potential commercial or recreational openings are contingent on the summer run. And at this point they’re tracking behind schedule.
“The summer run is the group predicted to be the largest component of the return,” Jantz said, adding there’s some uncertainty around the run timing right now.
They’re waiting for an update on Friday to know more.
“Either it will be a return later than forecast or much smaller than forecast,” he said.
“If we don’t see a run size similar to that which was forecast, the likelihood of commercial and recreational fisheries is slim.”