It may be a dominant year for late-run sockeye salmon on the Fraser River, but that doesn’t mean commercial fisheries will see the benefit of increased fishing.
The median forecast is for 14 million sockeye returning to the Coast, of which almost half of them will be bound for the Shuswap (one third to the Adams River).
The goal of fisheries officials is to have the majority of the fish return to their spawning grounds, including 80 per cent of the mere 1,000 expected to return to Cultus Lake.
“When the Cultus Lake run was assessed as endangered in 2003, it was not legally listed under the Species at Risk Act for protection, but a recovery group and plan were formed,” says Mike Lapointe, chief biologist at the Pacific Salmon Commission. “In 2014, we had a forecast for 14,000 and you could show it was likely you could reach objectives. This year with the forecast so small, you can’t even meet the 80 per cent target if you don’t harvest a single fish.”
Below their “turnoff” at the Vedder River, it would be impossible to separate the Cultus Lake sockeye because they are swimming among the millions of salmon heading to destinations upstream.
Lapointe understands the angst among commercial harvesters who have been hoping for greatly improved opportunities this year, but says the dilemma is in whether there’s a willingness to write off the Cultus Lake run in favour of allowing a greater allowable catch.
“I think because Cultus is an example that is doing poorly, there’s a precedent-setting element that could come about if you chose to write off the stock,” says Lapointe. “What does that mean to other lakes?”
As well, Lapointe says one of things that has frustrated the industry is that there’s a perception the harvesters are trying to do their part, when little is being done to address the human development and activity on the lake that is popular with vacationers.
Lapointe says the approach to managing Cultus Lake stock in 2018 has not yet been finalized, with the poor returns over the past few years making the decision more difficult.
Pre-run forecasts are made by the federal DFO and Pacific Salmon Commission staff are engaged in making in-season assessments through test fisheries.
Using information provided by the commission, the Fraser River Panel made up of reps from Canada and the U.S. makes the decision about how many sockeye can be caught.