Low sockeye run may mean aboriginal-only catch
Commercial fishermen shouldn't count on putting a net in the Fraser River this summer.
Pre-season estimates of this year's sockeye salmon run suggest it's unlikely enough fish will return to the Fraser for fishery managers to approve a commercial catch.
Pacific Salmon Commission chief biologist Mike Lapointe said 1.2 million to 3.8 million sockeye are forecast to return.
That's down from a run of five million last year and way down from the huge 2010 run of 30 million sockeye, believed to be a rare anomaly.
"It's a fairly bleak outlook," Lapointe said.
He admitted salmon run forecasts have been notoriously inaccurate in recent years, but said the small number of salmon that spawned in 2008 dictates that this year's return will not be large.
"The expectation is very low," he said.
A run of 2.1 million sockeye – the mid-point of the forecast for this year – would leave only one million harvestable sockeye after spawning requirements.
And Lapointe said that would be entirely allocated to First Nations, who get priority ahead of all other users for food, social and ceremonial purposes, leaving none available for any commercial catch.
The forecast estimates there's a 10 per cent chance the run could exceed 3.8 million, and the same probability that it could be less than 1.2 million.
Most sockeye are expected to come in early-timed runs.
With a near-record snowpack still to melt in the Interior, Lapointe said there's concern that returning sockeye will struggle to get upstream against a strong freshet in the Fraser and its tributaries.
A dismal 2009 return, far below forecast, led the federal government to appoint the Cohen Commission to look into a long-term decline in Fraser sockeye.