Concern for British Columbia sockeye salmon as Fraser River run estimates drop by millions


Optimism about an expected bumper season for wild British Columbia sockeye salmon has turned to distress, after a regulator’s estimate of returns to the Fraser River fell by nearly half this week.

The Pacific Salmon Commission’s pre-season estimate of 9.8 million fish returning fell to 5.5 million on Monday, prompting conservationists and anglers to express concern.

« It’s terribly bad, » said Greg Taylor, senior fisheries adviser at the Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

Hopes were high for the sockeye run this year, in part because fish return to spawn in the Fraser River on a four-year cycle, with 2022 being one of the peak years expected, he said.

The low figure raises conservation concerns and suggests the sockeye salmon fishery in B.C. waters is unlikely to open this year, creating what a commercial fishermen’s union says is a dire situation for its members .

Cross-border tensions

It came days after a less conservative estimate sparked tensions between US and Canadian officials. The commission, which was set up jointly by the United States and Canada to manage Pacific salmon stocks, estimated last Thursday that the run would be 7.2 million before lowering that figure further.

As the United States accepted the commission’s assessment last week and allowed its sockeye salmon fisheries to open over the weekend, Canada’s Department of Fisheries has called for a more conservative count and fisheries Canadian remained closed.

A sockeye salmon is brought in along the banks of the Fraser River near Chilliwack, British Columbia, Wednesday September 1, 2010. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

“The United States accepted our recommendations last week and Canada wanted to see an even lower number than what was recommended,” said Fiona Martens, chief of fisheries management programs for the commission.

Martens said the commission makes its best guesses based on fisheries and test models. The number of fish returning was still up on Thursday, but had yet to peak, she said.

« For us to find the best race size, we need to see a spike in that data. We hadn’t seen that in the last week, so there was definitely some uncertainty, » Martens said.

US fisheries have since been closed, she said.

Extreme disappointment

Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray was unavailable for an interview and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife did not return a request for comment.

Kevin Lemkay, a spokesman for Murray, said the government is following the committee’s decision « with great concern » for wild salmon and Canadian anglers.

« DFO made it clear during negotiations that they thought the (Commission’s) run size estimates were far too high and were extremely disappointed to see fishing proposals allowed on the basis of overly optimistic estimates of run sizes. run sizes, » Lemkay said in a statement.

While Canada is pleased the commission has since taken a “more cautious approach,” it said the government is also disappointed that sockeye returns are proving lower than expected.

Fishermen expressed dismay at the missed opportunity to fish and the lack of support they felt from the government.

For Kyle Louis, who fishes in Steveston, British Columbia, learning that his American counterparts were hitting the water as he was forced to dock was heartbreaking.

“Fortunately for me, I am engaged in other fisheries. I make crab, shrimp, herring. their boats, they’re going to be forced to sell their gear, » he said from Cowichan Bay.

Industry asks for government help

James Lawson, president of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union-UNIFOR, said some commercial fishermen went to sea thinking they were going to fish and could not afford to return home without a catch.

The federal government is not providing enough transition support for fishermen as the industry collapses around them, he said. Employment insurance is inaccessible when tied to income that does not exist and permit fees should be reduced for financial relief, he said.

« They should be looking for a labor adjustment for us, maybe disaster relief, » he said, noting that the fishery had been restricted for years.

The union believes in acting on the best available science and agrees with the commission’s estimates, including those on Thursday, which predicted a temporary harvest, he said. Now that the peak has passed, the brief chance to fish has passed.

« What little opportunity there was, the Americans effectively took it, leaving us out of the water. They beat us to the fist while our government kept us tied to the dock, » he said. declared.

Fraser returns an « anomaly »

The Fraser’s small upwellings are a concerning anomaly that could indicate the impact of human activity, according to Taylor.

In particular, returns of sockeye salmon to other parts of the North Pacific, from Russia to the Columbia River, have been strong, he said. They include the Skeena River and the Barclay Strait in British Columbia.

The Fraser’s lowest yields are in the southern and eastern parts of the watershed where humans have altered the landscape, he said. Bad runs this year include the famous Adams Rivers run and others in the Kamloops and Shuswap areas.

Much of the area around the Fraser River is used by the Metro Vancouver Port Authority. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

« That raises a few questions. You know, that’s where a lot of the population lives, that’s where we humans have really manipulated the habitat, » he said, adding that the climate change also contributes to warming waters, forest fires and other local negative effects. implications.

Fraser River sockeye declines may be canaries in the coal mine, potentially reflecting the health of the Salish Sea and the lands around it, he added.

« I hate to use that tired old metaphor, but they really are, » he said.

The numbers should send warning signals to all British Columbians about the need to reform logging practices and protect and rehabilitate habitat, he said.

« The future doesn’t look good for the poor salmon unless we do it. »


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