Fraser River sockeye fishery to stay closed this year

Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced Tuesday that it does not expect to allow any commercial or recreational fishery for Fraser River sockeye this year due to concerns about the stocks.

The department said in a notice Tuesday that Fraser River sockeye forecasts are “highly uncertain” at this time.

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Salmon watchers are concerned about the variability in annual survival rates for returning fish and uncertainty over how the salmon fared due to changing ocean conditions. The sockeye spend the majority of their lives in the Pacific before returning to spawn in their home rivers and streams.

Fraser River sockeye returns from 2015 and 2016 were forecast at 941,000 in total.

Last year, the returns of 485,900 were the lowest since record keeping began in 1893.

The other major challenge for this year’s sockeye — along with chinook, coho, and steelhead — is that they have to get through the site of the November 2018 Big Bar landslide on the Fraser River upstream of Lillooet. Despite installing infrastructure to help salmon, that area will “continue to be an impediment,” the notice said.

The number of sockeye escapement (the number of fish returning which have not been captured in a fishery) as of Tuesday is estimated at 45,100. Test catches to date in the Fraser River have been low.

Results were addressed Tuesday at a meeting of the Fraser River panel, part of the Canada-U.S. Pacific Salmon Commission. It meets again on Friday.

At this time, First Nations food, social and ceremonial sockeye fisheries are closed for four weeks to protect early Stuart and early summer run stocks. First Nations sockeye fisheries are not expected this year either unless run sizes increase, the department said.

So far this season, “very limited” chinook salmon fisheries for ceremonial purposes have taken place.

Dane Chauvel, chair of the B.C. Salmon Marketing Council, is not surprised that there will be no commercial fishery for Fraser River sockeye.

Vancouver Island shoppers may have noticed sockeye for sale. Those fish are from Barkley Sound, off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

That opening was a “pleasant surprise,” Chauvel said.

Other sockeye have come from Alaska, he said.

Even though this will likely be a bleak year for the fishing industry, fishing opportunities are coming up,” he said. “I think the fisheries that we can look forward to are chum, coho and spring.”

Spring salmon fisheries on the west coast of Vancouver Island are set for Aug. 1 and Aug. 15 and a coho fishery on the north coast is also scheduled for Aug. 1. Chum fisheries are likely on the central coast this summer, followed by an October opening in Johnstone Strait, he said.

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