Gilnetters on the Fraser River off Surrey toss freshly caught sockeye salmon onto ice during the summer of 2010

Massive sockeye salmon run forecast for Fraser River

B.C. fishermen buzzing over projection of up to 72 million salmon expected to return

Another huge sockeye salmon run is forecast to return to the Fraser River this summer, potentially even bigger than the modern record of 30 million that unexpectedly came back in 2010.

The fish that are now on their homeward migration back to B.C. waters are the spawn of that massive run four years ago, which was the best in a century.

Pre-season estimates of this summer’s run size from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans range from a low of 7.3 million to a high of 72.5 million, with the more probable mid-range forecast set at 23 million.

Until the salmon begin appearing off Vancouver Island, however, there’s little way to know with certainty what proportion of fry that went out to sea survived and thrived in the marine environment.

Much depends on ocean conditions, such as water temperature and the amount of food and predators they encountered.

It’s been theorized that iron-rich ash from the eruption of an Alaskan volcano in 2008 caused a plankton bloom that increased the food supply, contributing to the 2010 sockeye run.

No volcano fertilized the North Pacific waters since then, but salmon watchers are waiting to see if a rogue geoengineering project had any similar effect.

A Haida-led team controversially dumped 200 tonnes of iron dust in the ocean in 2011 with the aim of trapping atmospheric carbon and boosting salmon returns. A 10,000-square-kilometre plankton bloom was later detected by satellites.

Commercial harvesters, sport fishing operators and aboriginal fishermen, meanwhile, are all buzzing with anticipation over the potential run.

But processors caution a huge record run could overwhelm fish packing plants that were pressed to their limit in 2010.

“It was a large challenge and I’m not sure we could have handled very much more fish,” recalled Rob Morley, vice-president of production and corporate development at Canadian Fishing Co. (Canfisco).

He noted the range of 2014 estimates is broad and salmon forecasting is notoriously inexact.

But Morley said other signs coming in point to a very good year for sockeye all along the coast, including runs to Barkley Sound and the Skeena River.

“We’ve seen very good returns of three-year-old fish this past summer,” he said, referring to sockeye that come back a year early and are called immature jacks.

Strong coho returns also suggest good ocean survival for sockeye.

Morley said processors hope a strong run can be verified soon enough for fishery managers to approve early and steady openings, rather than a later, more compressed window.

“If we are, in fact, seeing a lot of fish and get started sooner, it will help everybody handle more fish.”

Sto:lo Tribal Council fisheries advisor Ernie Crey warned against allowing intensive commercial fishing too soon this summer without solid justification.

“Everyone’s getting excited,” he said. “It’s great the forecast is looking that good. But we can’t forget that we’ve had three inquiries into failures of Fraser sockeye salmon runs. Things can go terribly wrong and people can be very disappointed.”

If errors are made and managers decide mid-season they’ve allowed too much fishing, Crey said, the only place to compensate and ensure enough salmon spawn is to then curtail the aboriginal catch upriver.

“It’s hard to be definitive about salmon. We only know enough to know that we don’t know enough.”

Some commercial sockeye fishing was allowed last year, when about four million salmon returned to the Fraser, after a shutdown in 2012.

DFO officials say Fraser sockeye appear to be gradually rebuilding since the disastrous 2009 run when just 1.6 million sockeye returned, triggering the Cohen Inquiry.

Just Posted

Lightning sparks handful of fires in Cariboo region

So far none are larger than two hectares

Marijuana to be legal in Canada Oct. 17: Trudeau

Prime Minister made the announcement during question period in the House of Commons

Editorial: Let the sunshine in

Hot weather and storms are a bad combination, but maybe we can stay optimistic this summer

Folk musician Chris Ronald is coming to Wells

It’ll be his second time playing at the Bear’s Paw Cafe on Saturday night

Sentencing delayed for local robbery suspect

Blackwater Road bust suspect is seeking new counsel for court date July 17

In reversal, Trump signs executive order to stop family separation

President had been wrongly insisting he had no choice but to separate families apprehended at border

B.C. ‘will be ready’ for marijuana legalization

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says some stores open by Oct. 17

UPDATED: Polygamous wife appeals conviction in B.C. child bride case

Emily Blackmore was found guilty of taking her underage daughter to U.S. to marry church leader

B.C. sets deadline for Indigenous salmon farm consent

All 120 operations will need agreements by 2022, province says

Family of 4 from Oregon believed to be missing in northern B.C.

RCMP, Search and Rescue crews searching area where vehicle was abandoned

B.C. creates public registry to track real estate owners

The first registry of its kind in Canada aims to end the hidden property ownership

Police watchdog called to Kelowna after car destroyed in crash

A motor vehicle incident has closed Highway 33 in both directions

BC SPCA receives 400 reports of dogs in hot cars so far this year

Society is again urging people to leave their pets at home if they can’t keep them safe in the heat

8 B.C. communities rank as the friendliest in Canada

Eight B.C. communities can claim they are the friendliest in the country.

Most Read