A commercial fishing boat harvests sockeye salmon on the Fraser River near Surrey during the 2010 season. This year's much lower sockeye return and dangerously hot river water temperatures mean no fishery is expected.

A commercial fishing boat harvests sockeye salmon on the Fraser River near Surrey during the 2010 season. This year's much lower sockeye return and dangerously hot river water temperatures mean no fishery is expected.

Fraser sockeye test fishing curtailed to conserve weak run

Hot water may kill up to 70 per cent of salmon before spawning

Lower-than-hoped returns of Fraser River sockeye and dangerously hot water temperatures upstream have prompted fishery managers to curtail test fishing in a bid to let as many salmon spawn as possible.

About 82,000 sockeye have already been caught through test fisheries and those salmon are sold to help offset the $1.4-million cost of the test program, which is critical to gauging the strength of incoming runs.

Pacific Salmon Commission chief biologist Mike Lapointe said Wednesday about half of test fishing operations have now been cancelled.

And three seine boats that continue to test fish offshore are now ordered to release nearly all sockeye after counting them instead of harvesting them.

“We’re trying to be good citizens and minimize our impact,” Lapointe said.

Asked why test fishing wasn’t adjusted earlier, he said the commission acted quickly once it became apparent continued hot, dry weather would pose a major risk.

“As soon as we knew we had a bad situation we acted as fast as we could,” Lapointe said. “Ideally, in perfect hindsight, it would have been nice if we could have stopped sooner but there was no way for us to anticipate that.”

Although the test fishing program is $200,000 short of the revenue to cover its expenses, Lapointe said conservation, not budget concerns, guided the timing of the decision.

Sto:lo fishery advisor Ernie Crey said first nations have argued for catch-and-release test fishing for years, adding it would have reduced pressure on threatened Fraser stocks.

“Far more fish would have been up the Fraser River in all the intervening years,” Crey said. “It’s better late than never. Finally they do the right thing at a time when fish runs are perilously low.”

There’s been no commercial and sport fishing for Fraser sockeye this summer with no prospect for any unless the main summer run merely turns out to be late in arriving.

Lapointe said there are some signs that may be the case.

But even then, deadly high river water temperatures of more than 21 degrees now threaten to kill up to 70 per cent of incoming sockeye before they can spawn, meaning many more must be allowed to swim upriver to compensate.

“We’re expecting only on the order of a third of these fish to survive their journey up the Fraser to the spawning areas,” Lapointe said.

As a result, he said, there’s a “significant risk” that no more sockeye may end up spawning this year than in the disastrous 2009 season that triggered the Cohen Inquiry.

Sockeye run on a four-year cycle, so the fish now migrating are the offspring of the 2009 run, and it had been hoped this would be the year that run started to rebuild.

The main summer run of Fraser sockeye is estimated at two million and although Lapointe said that may climb it may not be enough.

“We need a significantly larger run to get to any kind of harvestable surplus because the river conditions are so bad.”

Aboriginal food fishing has also been halted after a catch of about 270,000 sockeye, mainly from the early summer and early Stuart components of the run that had come in a bit stronger than expected.

It now looks like this year’s total Fraser River run will fall well short of the forecast of roughly 4.6 million but better than the 1.6 million return of 2009 when more than 10 million were expected.

There may be commercial, aboriginal and sport fishing for Fraser pink salmon – which are expected to arrive strongly in September – but that could also be reined in if there’s a risk of late-running sockeye being caught as a bycatch.

Just Posted

Kalyn Head, seen here on June 4, 2021, will be running 100 kilometres for her “birthday marathon” fundraiser on July 23. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Woman’s 100-km birthday marathon from Chilliwack to Abbotsford will benefit Special Olympics B.C.

Kalyn Head hopes run raises awareness, advocates for inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities

Dancers from the Sts’ailes First Nation perform the eagle dance at a welcome banner dedication ceremony on Thursday, June 10. “Ey Swayel” is a Halq̓eméylem term translated as ‘a good day.’ (Adam Louis/Observer)
VIDEO: ‘A good day’ for Agassiz school as Sts’ailes welcome banner is dedicated

Banner hangs above the school’s entrance, welcoming students, staff and visitors

Missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs was found deceased on Thursday evening (June 17).
Body of missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs found

Hobbs was reported missing Monday after leaving his job site in Langley

UFV athletes were honoured for their strength and perseverance during the pandemic. (UFV photo)
Fraser Valley athletes recognized in year without sports

UFV Cascades athletes honoured for strength shown during the pandemic

A tenant walks in front of her home on Boundary Road on Friday, June 18, 2021 after it was destroyed by fire the night before in Chilliwack. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack family homeless after fire rips through house on Abbotsford border

Turtle rescued, no one seriously hurt following Boundary Road fire in Chilliwack

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Surrey Fire Service battled a dock fire along the Fraser River late Friday night (June 18). It was on Musqueam Drive, near Industrial Road, around 10:45 p.m. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
VIDEO: Fire engulfs pier on Surrey side of the Fraser River

Dock has reportedly been unused for a long time

People in Metro Vancouver can expect to experience a short wave of heat just in time for Father’s Day, according to Environment Canada. (Black Press Media files)
Short-lived heatwave headed for Metro Vancouver this weekend

Temperatures are expected to be up to 10 degrees higher than average Sunday and Monday

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

New research suggests wolves can be steered away from the endangered caribou herds they prey on by making the man-made trails they use to hunt harder to move along. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Culling cutlines, not B.C. wolves, key to preserving caribou herds: researcher

The government has turned to killing hundreds of wolves in an effort to keep caribou around

Gary Abbott (left) and Louis De Jaeger were two of the organizers for the 2014 Spirit of the People Powwow in Chilliwack. Monday, June 21, 2021 is Indigenous Peoples Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 20 to 26

Indigenous Peoples Day, Take Your Dog to Work Day, Onion Rings Day all coming up this week

Gwen Spencer Hethey with her uncle and mentor Major Frederick Richardson. (Courtesy of Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame)
‘She was a killer’: The B.C. woman who pioneered female sharpshooting

Gwen Spencer Hethey made military men ‘look like turkeys’ says her son

Most Read