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Sockeye fishery ruled out due to weak Fraser run

Commercial fishermen in the Fraser River pull sockeye salmon from a net during the healthy 2010 season. No commercial or recreational fishing is being allowed this summer due to weak stocks.  - Evan Seal / Surrey Leader
Commercial fishermen in the Fraser River pull sockeye salmon from a net during the healthy 2010 season. No commercial or recreational fishing is being allowed this summer due to weak stocks.
— image credit: Evan Seal / Surrey Leader

Fishery managers say the Fraser River sockeye run isn't strong enough this year to allow any commercial fishing or recreational angling.

Latest estimates peg this summer's return of salmon at about 2.3 million, slightly better than the pre-season estimate of 2.1 million.

"At these levels we're not anticipating commercial or recreational fisheries," said Barry Rosenberger, DFO's Interior area director and co-chair of the Pacific Salmon Commission's Fraser River panel.

This year's run is down from five million last year and way down from the huge 2010 run of 30 million sockeye, believed to be a rare anomaly.

A low 2012 return wasn't unexpected, because sockeye run on a four-year cycle and the previous generation that spawned in 2008 was very weak.

The commercial and recreational sectors knew fishing was unlikely, Rosenberger added.

First Nations, who get fishing priority for food, social and ceremony purposes, have caught 400,000 Fraser sockeye so far.

Rosenberger said he doesn't consider this year's run a bad outcome because four adult sockeye are returning for every one that spawned in 2008.

That's much better productivity than in 2008, he said, when less than one adult came back for each spawner from the previous generation.

"If that rate of return continues we'll be in much better position four years from now," he said. "Our primary goal this year was to increase our spawning ground counts and we think we're making progress."

The river temperature of 19.4 degrees is almost two degrees higher than average for this time of year, which poses some concern for sockeye migrating inland, but Rosenberger said he expects the water to cool now that the mid-August heat wave has passed.

Sto:lo fisheries advisor Ernie Crey said the aboriginal catch shared by the 94 bands that depend on Fraser sockeye is far below the one million fish they take in a good year.

"There's going to be a lot of hardship this year," he said. "There won't be a lot of fish put away for the winter months."

Next year will likely be worse, Crey added, because the 2013 run will be the weak progeny of the disastrous 2009 return that prompted Ottawa to appoint the Cohen Inquiry into the decline of Fraser sockeye.

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