Fraser sockeye report from Watershed Watch Ecologist Aaron Hill
The final part of the Fraser sockeye run is now entering the river. We hit the water last week with our allies at Raincoast to monitor the commercial sockeye fishery, which was supposed to close on Monday, Sept. 15th to protect endangered Interior Fraser River coho. Fish were jumping everywhere in the lower river and off Roberts Bank, and a few nearly jumped into our boat; no joke.
It was good to see fishery officers out patrolling the commercial and sport fisheries, something we see far too little of in more remote sections of the coast, which leads to rampant violations. We saw quite a bit of bycatch in the Fraser gillnet fishery that closed on Sunday, but the seine fishery was much cleaner with close to zero bycatch of coho and other species. Unfortunately it still has a serious impact on endangered Fraser sockeye stocks like Cultus, which folks there are trying to rebuild.
We also spent a bit of time monitoring the American commercial fishery off Point Roberts, which had a lot of bycatch by comparison, and handing of the bycatch wasn’t great. They still ramp their fish there (that’s illegal in Canada), and they were letting the coho sit on deck for too long before tossing them back in a rough manner, where seals were waiting to pick them off. Unfortunately, it wasn’t any worse than what happens on this side of the border.
The various Fraser sockeye runs have been good so far this year: less than forecast, but mostly strong. But we’ve been sitting in on the management meetings all summer and unfortunately DFO and the fishing industry have been up to their usual shenanigans. The joint Canada/US Fraser River Panel — which manages the fishery and is dominated by fishermen — has consistently ignored the recommendations of the Pacific Salmon Commission’s scientists regarding the size of the run and the number of fish that are expected to die in the river due to high water temperatures. Over and over, the Panel decided that there were more fish and that the river conditions were more favourable than what the scientists were recommending. Why would they do this? Simple. To allow for more fishing, which has an impact on weaker sockeye populations and other species like those endangered Interior Fraser coho. We won’t know the result of these risky decisions until the fish are all on on the spawning grounds and the final counts are in, but you can bet that we’ll be watching closely.
As the fish move up the river, they can be caught in fisheries that are more selective, and more sustainable. I’m looking forward to visiting the Kamloops Lake fishery in a few weeks, where I’m hoping to buy some of those delicious and super-abundant Adams and Shuswap sockeye without worrying about whether any of them came from the depleted Cultus Lake run. You can, too: http://riverfreshkamloops.com/. For more information on selective fishing see our recent video Saving Wild Salmon by Changing the Way We Fish.
If you want to help us put gas in the boat so we can keep getting out on the water, feel free to make a donation here.
And be sure to go see the salmon for yourself as they amass on the spawning grounds. It’s an uplifting sight, seeing those bright red sockeye crowding onto the cold, clean gravel to complete the final, essential act in their journey to the middle of the Pacific Ocean and back.