Warm water delays chinook

Recreational fishermen await fishery opening during mid-summer heat wave

The Fraser River is warm, and the chinook salmon run is weeks behind, as the fish wait to spawn.

Temperatures have soared to 40 C and beyond in the B.C. Interior, breaking records. That, combined with no rainfall, has water levels dropping in rivers around the province. Warm water is potentially life threatening to the ocean-going fish, stresses them as they spawn, and they will wait to enter fresh water until it cools.

Once they start spawning, they can’t return to the ocean.

But the late opening is a source of frustration for sports fishermen, and for the businesses that rely on them.

Some question whether it is necessary.

Randy Morgan, at Hatch Match’r Fly and Tackle in Maple Ridge, said the chinook numbers are decent at the Albion test fishery, and river guides fishing for sturgeon report that they are seeing a lot of salmon.

“The water is still decent. They just won’t let us go,” said Morgan, referring to Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

It may be a hot summer, but it has become the new normal for the DFO to keep recreational fishermen away from salmon until late in the summer. They used to start fishing May 1.

“Mommy and daddy always make us wait,” said Morgan, adding that this year is supposed to be a good run.

“The recreational guys take the brunt, every time.”

Morgan said recreational fisherman may be victims of their own success. About 12 years ago, bottom bouncing became a popular technique, where anglers can hook a salmon in the mouth without getting it to take their lure.

He said the ministry should look at banning the practice, which would reduce the number of salmon recreational fishermen could take, and keep the fishery open for bar fishing from the Mission Bridge to the mouth of the Fraser.

He said recreational fishermen police themselves.

“Bar fishing, you don’t catch as many fish, but at least you’re on the river,” he said. “Now, we all sit and wait. People can’t plan their holidays.

“We’re all sitting in limbo.”

The late run will impact native bands.

“It will be a hardship,” said Katzie First Nation Chief Susan Miller. “We rely on fishing to sustain our families.

She added that salmon harvesting is a time when families get together to share in traditional work, and teach their children how to fish.

Miller estimates that the band will be lucky to have openings by August.

Pinks will be running in September, and while they are not the preferred salmon because of their soft flesh, Morgan said they are alright if packed on ice as soon as they are caught, and cooked within a day or two.