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

Human foot found near Victoria belonged to missing man

Coroner says no foul play suspected in death of man from Washington State

Alberni Armada boys crowned Island wrestling champs for 19th consecutive year

Alberni wrestlers bring home hardware from Islands, prep for B.C.’s at home

City of Port Alberni sticks to three percent

City council has proposed an annual increase of three percent for residential taxpayers

B.C. BUDGET: Fare freeze, free travel for seniors on BC Ferries

A complete fare freeze will be put into place on major routes, and fares will be rolled back on smaller routes by 15 per cent

Port Alberni’s drug death rate ‘highest on Island’ says medical health officer

British Columbia entered a state of emergency in 2017 over the opioid crisis

VIDEO: Top 10 B.C. budget highlights

The NDP is focusing on childcare, affordable housing and speeding up the elimination of MSP premiums

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Trudeau reiterates denial of Sikh separatists in cabinet, condemns extremism

“We will always stand against violent extremism, but we understand that diversity of views is one of the great strengths of Canada.”

Vancouver Island job market ever-evolving

Various sectors driving employment in region will be represented at Black Press career fair in Comox Feb. 8

Canada wins gold in men’s ski cross

Leman earns redemption with ski cross gold; Homan out early

Trump says more must be done to protect children

In a tweet Tuesday night, Trump indicated he wants to strengthen the background check system, but offered no specifics.

Evangelist Billy Graham has died at 99

Graham died Wednesday morning at his home in Montreat, North Carolina.

Canadians capture bronze in women’s bobsled event

Canadians Humphries, George take bronze in women’s bobsled event at Olympics

Most Read