Dismal sockeye run worst in 120 years

Low Fraser River return was expected this time around, unlike 2009 disaster.

2010 sockeye salmon run in the Adams River.

The worst return of sockeye salmon to the Fraser River in more than a century has kept the commercial fishery shut down and curtailed aboriginal food fishing.

The run size estimate of 853,000 returning sockeye – the lowest on record since 1893 – is barely one third of the 2.3 million salmon that had been expected to come back this summer. Only twice before in the past century has the Fraser run dipped below one million.

Mike LapointeMike Lapointe, the chief biologist for the Pacific Salmon Foundation, agrees this year’s return is bad, but says it’s not a catastrophe on the same scale as 2009, when millions of Fraser sockeye unexpectedly went missing and triggered the Cohen Inquiry.

“I’m not sure I agree with people characterizing it as a disaster,” Lapointe said. “When you start from a spot that’s already pretty low and you get poorer than average conditions, unfortunately you can get this type of return that’s very low but not completely out of the realm of possibility.”

Pre-season estimates indicated there was a one-in-10 chance the run could be this poor.

In contrast, 2009’s return of 1.5 million was proportionally much lower than the more than 10 million sockeye anticipated and called into question the models used by fishery managers.

The bulk of sockeye in this year’s Fraser run were destined for the Chilko Lake system. Lapointe said their rate of return will likely be around 20 adult spawners for every 1,000 juveniles that went to sea. That’s much less than usual, but in 2009 the Chilko return rate was just three per 1,000.

Sockeye return on a four-year cycle and this part of the cycle is traditionally the lowest, so expectations weren’t high.

But wildly inconsistent salmon returns seem to be increasingly prevalent as the cycle gets more lopsided.

In 2010, the Fraser welcomed back a record 30 million sockeye.

And Lapointe said 2018 could once again be a big year, and even 2017 might exceed 10 million salmon, based on the number of adults that previously spawned.

There are also signs marine conditions that have been bad for a few years could improve.

A warm water blob in the North Pacific that’s thought to have reduced the food supply and attracted predators since 2014 has dissipated.

Lapointe said the recent results throw up more questions than answers.

“Is this a pattern that’s going to become more frequent because the ocean is becoming less of a favourable place for juvenile salmon?”

Watershed Watch Salmon Society executive director Aaron Hill agreed this summer’s record low return may not be as big a surprise and could soon reverse, but added the consequences right now are severe for First Nations who depend on salmon.

He listed past overfishing, viruses and parasites from salmon farms and extraction of water from the watershed as some of the factors that may be harming salmon populations.

“But the big one compounding all these other stressors is the climate,” Hill said.

“Not only is it the worst return on record but the fish swimming up the river are swimming into river water that’s lethally warm. A lot of fish won’t even make it to the spawning grounds. We just don’t know how many.”

More variability and wild swings in the salmon cycle appear likely, Hill added.

“It really puts a fine point on the need to move on things we know we can do to improve the numbers of salmon that get up the river and survive to spawn.”

Hill said the province has “abdicated its responsibility” to initiate more aggressive climate action to help reduce impacts on the fishery when it released its new climate plan last week.

And he said the federal government must do more to respond to the recommendations of the Cohen Commission.

“This crisis of Fraser River sockeye has not gone away.”

Just Posted

New partnership lets Kelowna family save on medical transportation costs

New Hope Air and Airbnb initiative provides patients free accommodation while traveling to city centres for medical reasons

Kelowna karate stars bring home 24 medals from B.C. championships

Thirteen athletes from Kelowna Karate and Fitness performed strong at the provincials last weekend

City of Kelowna implements two new electric vehicle charging stations

EV drivers will now have four charging options across the city

Third Space Life Charity announces Jody Phil as executive director

Jody Pihl will succeed Allie Grey who served as the executive director for the past three years

Convicted child rapist loses sentence appeal in Kelowna

The man was sentenced to seven years in prison in December 2016

BC SPCA Kelowna holiday bake sale kicks off Nov. 7

Event will help to raise money for stray and neglected animals

John Mann, singer and songwriter of group Spirit of the West dead at 57

Mann died peacefully in Vancouver on Wednesday from early onset Alzheimer’s

VIDEO: B.C. high school’s turf closed indefinitely as plastic blades pollute waterway

Greater Victoria resident stumbles on plastic contamination from Oak Bay High

B.C. mayor urges premier to tweak road speeds in an ‘epidemic of road crash fatalities’

Haynes cites ICBC and provincial documents in letter to John Horgan

South Cariboo Driver hits four cows due to fog

The RCMP’s investigation is ongoing

Hergott: Day of remembrance for road traffic victims

Lawyer Paul Hergott’s latest column

Revelstoke man who sexually assaulted drunk woman sentenced to 18 months house arrest

For the first nine months he cannot leave his home between 2 p.m. and 11 a.m. except for work

Kamloops RCMP seek driver who hit teenager, then drove away

The 13-year-old boy was in a crosswalk, crossing Seymour Street at Eighth Avenue

B.C. won’t appeal decision protecting ICBC court experts

Change to evidence rules next to save money, David Eby says

Most Read