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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sooke Fall Fair postponed until 2021

Organizers hope to still hold some form of competitions

Cyclists see potential and pitfalls in Sooke infrastructure

Getting from Sooke Road to Galloping Goose Trail a challenge for bike riders

SEAPARC solidifies plans for Sooke summer camps

Facility set to reopen to the public

Firefighters called for technical rescue at Sooke Potholes

Woman breaks her leg while walking along riverbed

B.C. records four new COVID-19 cases, Abbotsford hospital outbreak cleared

Four senior home outbreaks also declared over, eight still active

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

About 30% of B.C. students return to schools as in-class teaching restarts amid pandemic

Education minister noted that in-class instruction remains optional

Trudeau avoids questions about anti-racism protesters dispersed for Trump photo-op

Prime minister says racism is an issue Canadians must tackle at home, too

Vancouver Island school principal mourns family killed during US protests

Jelks says he’s grateful for the outpouring of support from the community in the wake of this tragedy

Be cautious expanding COVID-19 bubble, Dr. Bonnie Henry tells B.C.

Senior homes stay off-limits as schools, businesses reopen

Considerations made to keep Island community’s drive-by birthday celebrations going

Trucks will tone it down or not use horns at all to bring some joy to kids and older folks

Most Read