EDITORIAL: Fishery doesn’t smell good

Opening sockeye fishery ill-advised in light of low return numbers

As it has in the past few years, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is going ahead with a recreational sockeye salmon fishery on Osoyoos Lake, despite a large drop in the number of salmon returning to spawn in the Okanagan River.

The sockeye run is still being counted in the hundreds of thousands, but this year’s run is shaping up to be less than a third of last year’s spectacular run, when more than 325,000 sockeye found their way over Wells Dam.

Sockeye numbers have bounced around for the last couple of decades, but the general trend has been upwards. Much of the credit for that must go to the Okanagan Nation Alliance, which has gone to extraordinary lengths to restore sockeye to the river system going back to the early 1990s, when the run was only 3,000 to 5,000 fish.

This is year 10 of their 12-year program to restock the sockeye run. Although indicators point to success, it’s been shown again and again that, when it comes to fish stocks, circumstances can change overnight.

So we have to ask, is it wise to open up a recreational fishery in a year when the run is down? The DFO says plenty of sockeye are getting through, and they will be closely monitored. But common sense says that each fish caught is one less going to the spawning beds.

This year’s run is only at some 75,000 fish so far, but Richard Bussanich, an aquaculture specialist with the Okanagan Nation Alliance, says the spawning beds can handle 80,000 fish. That makes it crucial that as many salmon get through as possible.

In 2010, Okanagan Nation leaders questioned DFO’s fish management strategy for opening recreational fisheries without consultation and without gathering sufficient data to work out what the level of sustainable, ongoing fish harvesting would be. Opening another fishery in a year when returns are below optimum levels certainly lends credence to that opinion.