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Low salmon numbers keep nets out of the Fraser

Len Carr gets Dream Weaver ready for any fishery openings this year. While sockeye numbers are low, the pinks look promising. - Colleen Flanagan/The News
Len Carr gets Dream Weaver ready for any fishery openings this year. While sockeye numbers are low, the pinks look promising.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/The News

They would rather be out on the Fraser River chasing sockeye, but instead local commercial and sport fishermen alike were engaged in their second-favourite pastime Tuesday afternoon – cursing Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

“I haven’t fished this cycle since 1997,” groused Len Carr from the deck of his commercial fishing boat Dream Weaver, which is docked at Kanaka Landing in Maple Ridge.

“The Quesnels used to be the biggest run in the Fraser River system. Now it’s a missed opportunity. For the last three cycles we’ve tried to build this run up,” he added. “This should be fantastic fishing.”

Instead, all fishermen – commercial, sport and aboriginal – have been told “hands off.”

The estimated run size is discouragingly low, and Fisheries biologists have estimated up to 70 per cent of the spawners could die on their way upriver due to high water temperature, which is up 3.3 C.

To take stress off the sockeye, the Pacific Salmon Commission has scaled back test fishing, and cut off all sports angling for salmon on the Lower Fraser River.

The estimated size of the run was boosted Friday, as some sockeye are arriving later than anticipated in the waters around Vancouver Island. The commission now estimates the main summer run of sockeye at 2.3 million fish, up from two million.

The early summer run is now pegged at 520,000 fish, up from 475,000.

The overall sockeye run size is estimated at just more than three million, with late-run sockeye that were projected to add 583,000, not yet included in the count. That’s well below the 4.8 million run size forecast for this summer, but an improvement from the disastrous 1.6 million of four years ago that triggered the Cohen Commission inquiry into the Fraser River sockeye.

The aboriginal fishery also was stopped after a catch of approximately 270,000. There’s still no expectation of any more commercial or aboriginal food fishery openings for sockeye.

Carr is fine with that. Fisheries is right to take all means necessary to protect the sockeye fishery.

“It (the fishing closure) wasn’t a surprise to me, because of the low returns. Now you’ve got to protect these fish at all costs – sockeye are the money fish, that everyone needs.”

“Next year we’ll have a good year,” said Carr.

“You have to be optimistic as a fisherman.”

Fishing guides will find the complete closure devastating.

Chilliwack Fishing guide Dean Werk, with Great River Fishing Adventures, said sport fishermen would not kill a significant number of sockeye.

“We have done three years of hook-and-release mortality studies that clearly show a less than two-per-cent mortality on sport-caught sockeye salmon,” he said.

“We have shown clearly that we can fish for both chinook and pink salmon with an almost non-measurable impact.”

Werk said his company is fielding a number of cancellations due to the closure, including an 11-person group that was booked to fly in from Edmonton. That’s travel plans, hotel rooms, restaurant meals, all cancelled.

Close to nine million pink salmon are also forecast to arrive, however, and large numbers of that species are now being detected, suggesting an even bigger run than predicted. A big pink run could allow fishery openings in September.

– with files from Black Press

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