It is still early in a salmon season that runs from June to October, but so far things are playing out similar to what I forecast a few weeks ago. Similar. But certainly not the same. I have got enough things right so far to feel okay with my forecast and enough things wrong to keep me humble.
Fisheries expert Greg Taylor
Nass and Skeena sockeye appear to be returning above forecast if run-timing is near normal. In the Skeena, there will be some form of net fishing for sockeye—-gillnet, seine, or food, social and ceremonial—every day from July 13 through August 8. This is because there are insufficient vessels or processing capacity left to handle the expected production. Industry needs to fish as hard as possible to have any chance of harvesting the available catch. While this is helpful for industry, it is not good news for any bycatch such as steelhead or Chinook. Although ending the sockeye fishery on August 8 will offer Skeena chums and steelhead some protection.
It appears that the Skeena pink return may be strong this year. It will be worth watching as an abundant pink return may extend the net fishery beyond August 8.
It is still too early to say much about Nass pinks. But a fishery targeting Alaskan hatchery chums near the Alaskan border indicated some strength. We will know more when the fishery opens again this week.
Alaska, as always, is the wild card in how many salmon return to B.C. waters. Their fishery can have a significant impact on northern B.C. sockeye, pink, and chum returns. Looking at the current distribution of the Alaskan fleet, impacts may be lower as most of their fleet is concentrated on the inside of the panhandle. Unless, of course, the warmer waters in the eastern Pacific are encouraging salmon to migrate through cooler inside waters where they will be vulnerable to the gauntlet of Alaskan seiners. We have seen the same thing evolve in B.C. where Fraser sockeye have, over the past few decades, begun using the cooler inside waters as their major migratory route to the Fraser River. I will be watching with interest.
High stream temperatures and low flows are of increasing concern in the Skeena and Nass. Both are getting to levels that will compromise the migratory and spawning success of some returns. For fish that are released or dropped out of recreational or commercial fisheries, the added stress caused by low or warm water conditions can severely impact fish, decreasing reproductive success and increasing mortality. This is of particular concern given that most fish are discarded as a conservation measure. In other words, it’s a poor approach to conservation if catching and discarding these fish kills many of them or reduces their chance of survival.
Barkley Sound sockeye continues to be relatively strong. The return has been upgraded from an expected 500-700,000 to 750,000 for current management purposes.
One species that has shown surprising strength coastwide is coho. Both commercial and recreational fishers from Haida Gwaii to the Salish Sea are reporting an abundance of coho.
I am also hearing some reports of pink salmon in the south. This is encouraging but much too early to make any determination of what it may mean.
Fraser Chinook continue to struggle. DFO put a limit of fishery impacts on Fraser summer Chinook of 14 per cent, most of which will be allocated to First Nations for food purposes. Unfortunately, DFO does not effectively monitor the recreational Chinook fishery, which is the largest non-First Nations fishery, and understates the mortality rate of released fish. In addition, results of the monitoring they do have in place will not be available for over a year. So, the 14 per cent is just painting lipstick on the pig until they address the shortcomings in their monitoring and assessment programs.
The Early Stuart sockeye return to the Fraser River is tracking above the median forecast of 23,000 sockeye. There is little information yet on the other run-timing groups. Unfortunately, Fraser sockeye are facing water temperatures that are 3.1 degrees above median and well into levels that will compromise survival and spawning success. Flows are 52 per cent below the median. There is no history of levels so low at this time of year to forecast what might be the impact on migrating sockeye and Chinook, but it does not bode well.
I was asked after my 2023 forecast what the diversion rate (the proportion of Fraser sockeye using the inside (Johnstone Strait) migratory route is. We can’t answer this yet as the San Juan seine test fishery has been delayed to protect Early Stuart sockeye.