Chum fishery best in years, says DFO

A commercial fish opening off Cowichan Bay has netted 150,000 chum salmon for the market, making it the most successful opening in years.

Dozens of gill-net and seine fishboats took part in the fishery, which began Nov. 3 and wound up this week.

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“It was a very large fishery, a very successful fishery,” said Andrew Thomson, the south coast area director for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

The commercial fishery moved in after 230,000 chum salmon made it up the Cowichan and Koksilah rivers to spawn, meaning between 350,000 and 400,000 fish returned to the area in all.

The last commercial opening in the Cowichan Bay area was in 2009, when only 6,400 chum were caught. There have not been sufficient fish in the area to allow commercial fisheries until this year.

The healthy run of chum reflects good conditions when the salmon hatched and began their lives in the river four years ago. Once in the ocean, they experienced good growth and survival rates, Thomson said.

Chum, which fetch a lower price on the market than other salmon species, are prized for their meat and roe, he said.

The fish live three to five years and weigh between 4.5 and 6.5 kilograms as adults.

This year’s drought caused the water of the Cowichan and Koksilah rivers to drop precipitously, but the chum’s future numbers won’t be affected because they arrived in the estuary after the rains returned.

Chum are the last salmon species to spawn, so their return marks the end of the salmon fishery on the south coast, Thomson said.

The large number of fish boats at Cowichan Bay led DFO officials to separate seine boats from gill-netters to avoid overcrowding, he said.

DFO officials patrolled the area watching for bycatch and safety issues.

“It’s a very hands-on approach to management.”

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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