It’s shaping up to be a summer of extremes as salmon return to the B.C. coast, with some populations thriving and others struggling badly.
On the Skeena River system in the northwest of the province, sockeye returns have plunged to historic lows forcing drastic, never-before-imposed fishing closures. Last year sockeye numbered some 2.4 million, but officials now estimate only 395,000 fish will return this year, down from initial estimates of up to 800,000 fish.
Commercial and non-native recreational fisheries were shut down on the river last month, and now aboriginal subsistence fishing may also be closed.
Mel Kotyk, North Coast area director for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said the department's monitoring activities are finding one of the lowest runs since the 1950s, when a landslide partially blocked the Babine River, a major Skeena tributary.
The Fraser River has also seen dramatically lower sockeye returns than expected. Last week, the Pacific Salmon Commission lowered the forecast for the Fraser River’s main summer sockeye run to two million fish from a pre-season forecast of 3.7 million fish
Federal fisheries officials say that both commercial and sport fisheries “are very unlikely” for Fraser sockeye, and that native fisheries have been closed in the lower Fraser and tidal areas, with the goal of getting as many fish onto the spawning beds as possible.
In stark contest, pink salmon, which return bi-annually (in odd-numbered years) are doing extremely well and may exceed pre-season estimates. Long ignored, many anglers are now discovering that the football-sized pink salmon actually provide excellent sport fishing (see “How to join the pink salmon frenzy” in Outdoor Canada’s summer issue.)
Pink salmon returns on the north coast, including in the Nass and Douglas Channel areas “have been phenomenally huge,” Kotyk told the Vancouver Sun on Monday. “The processing plants can’t handle the volume anymore. They’re just unable to cope with the quantity of fish.”
“This has been a pretty spectacular season,” Owen Bird, executive director of the Sport Fishing Institute of B.C., told the Sun. That even includes the Strait of Georgia, where fishing has been relatively slow since the mid-1990s. However anglers have been hauling in impressive numbers of coho and chinook from Campbell River south to Victoria, Bird said.