Sockeye returns spell bad news for sport fishery

It looks likely that neither the commercial fleet nor recreational anglers will be getting a crack at Fraser River sockeye this year.

The 2012 Fraser River sockeye run is running out of steam.

It looks likely that neither the commercial fleet nor recreational anglers will be getting a crack at the prized red salmon this year.

The run size estimate for the summer run of sockeye remained unchanged Friday at 1.3 million, and about 2.3 million for the total Fraser sockeye returns, according to the Pacific Salmon Commission

“The late run sockeye is the limiting factor,” said Barry Rosenberger, co-chair of the Fraser River Panel, and also DFO’s area director for the Interior.

They would need the late summer run to reach about 300,000 fish to trigger a commercial fishery opening for sockeye.

“Currently we’re only at about 250,000 fish,” he said.

At Fred’s Custom Tackle, the lack of a 2012 recreational sockeye opening will mean an estimated quarter of a million dollar hit to the bottom line just for the retail location in Chilliwack, said store owner Fred Helmer.

He figures it’s another $350,000 in losses at the Abbotsford store.

The fishery is a huge economic engine for the region, and many are frustrated by the poor returns.

“It’s a bitter pill to swallow,” he said. “And I’m just one guy. You just got to go with whatever is out there and hope that Mother Nature cooperates next year.”

It was an exceedingly tough year for the sport fishing retail and guiding industry, starting with the challenges of high water over a prolonged wet and cold spring, and early predictions for poor Fraser sockeye returns.

“You always hope somewhere deep down they’re going to be wrong. The estimates aren’t an exact science,” said Helmer.

One of the issues in the summer run is that stocks of concern, like the dwindling Cultus Lake sockeye, are intermingled with other stocks coming through the system.

“I think at this point there’s an attitude of resignation out there now among recreational anglers,” said Rod Clapton of the B.C. Federation of Drift Fishers.

DFO is still expecting a few more sockeye to come up the river but it won’t like change anything, and no one is expecting a recreational opening.

“Whenever the Late Summers show up, it shuts down the fishing, so it’s not looking too positive for this season,” Clapton said.

The big hope is for the year after next, when a record run is set to come back on its four-year cycle.

“We’re just holding our breath that it will be a wonderful year.”

DFO officials are not expecting things to change much for the rest of this season, but they’ll continue to monitor daily test fishing catches.

“So we’re still looking for some more fish, but things are winding down,” said Rosenberger.

Aboriginal fisheries on the Fraser have taken a total of 288,050 fish to date, according to the PSC.

That is for all of the First Nations communities to share on the Fraser.

“The thing is it’s either feast or famine in the Aboriginal food fishery,” said Ernie Crey, fisheries advisor to the Sto:lo Tribal Council. “The DFO can try to spin this season saying it’s marginally better than four years ago, but there were fewer taken this year.

The abundance or dearth of fish stocks depends on migrating patterns and conditions, which vary wildly from year to year.

Impoverished First Nations communities along the Fraser watershed will have to work “really hard” with DFO officials, as well as commercial fishermen, conservation and sport fishing groups to restore these runs, he said.

“Only when the spawning beds are reseeded and the strength of runs restored will the Aboriginal priority to fish truly be respected.”

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