Mike Armstrong

Mike Armstrong

Fraser sockeye shun U.S. waters, fill B.C. nets

Warm water likely steered many more salmon to Canadian boats

A quirk of nature has handed B.C. commercial fishermen a huge catch of sockeye salmon this summer, while leaving their American counterparts almost empty handed.

Commercial fishing is winding down and the tally of the totes so far shows U.S. fishermen out of Washington State have caught barely 440,000 sockeye, a mere five per cent of the total Fraser-bound catch as of Friday.

By comparison, Canadian seiners, gillnetters and trollers, as well as First Nations and sports anglers, have caught a combined 7.9 million sockeye.

Americans had been allocated 1.8 million but haven’t come close to that quota because nearly all the Fraser sockeye have stayed out of U.S. waters by running down the east side of Vancouver Island via Johnstone Strait.

It’s not that the salmon have been patriotic about sticking to the all-Canadian migration route.

Pacific Salmon Commission chief biologist Mike Lapointe says warm ocean temperatures likely mean Fraser sockeye ranged further into the Gulf of Alaska and then, on their homeward migration, made landfall further north than usual up the B.C. coast.

A normal year sees Fraser sockeye flow more evenly around Vancouver Island, with significant numbers going down the west side where Americans can fish in Juan de Fuca Strait.

But since early August more than 98 per cent have taken Johnstone Strait.

“It’s very unusual,” Lapointe said, adding it’s been hard on American fishermen because Fraser sockeye “just aren’t swimming through their waters.”

The closest U.S. boats can get to the Canadian fishing frenzy is the U.S. water off Point Roberts, where BC Ferries passengers near Tsawwassen have been able to spot American boats fishing steadily.

Lapointe said unusual Fraser sockeye catches in southeast Alaska and off Haida Gwaii have been strong evidence of a more northerly landfall this year, with many more fish funnelled into Johnstone Strait.

The total Fraser sockeye run size is estimated at 20.7 million this year – very close to the mid-range pre-season estimate.

Lapointe said dangerously warm river temperatures have cooled, returning sockeye appear to be in good shape and plenty of fish are reaching the spawning grounds – all factors that bode well for a good run in 2018.

He said an unusual number of returning sockeye have been caught with either lamprey eels sucking on them or evidence of lamprey marks, but that doesn’t seem to have killed many.

Lampreys can survive in fresh water so “they can latch onto a sockeye in Georgia Strait and hang onto it and ride it right up the river.”

Unlike some recent years when the fleet was sidelined because the run was too small to fish, this year’s sockeye return – though short of a record – gave all groups of fishermen repeated openings.

“This is the biggest run of the four-year cycle,” Lapointe said. “In many ways it’s the one-in-four year opportunity these guys get.”

Some commercial sockeye fishing was allowed last year, when about four million salmon returned to the Fraser, after a shutdown in 2012.

Fishery managers are hopeful Fraser sockeye are gradually rebuilding since the disastrous 2009 run when just 1.6 million sockeye returned, triggering the Cohen Inquiry.

Lapointe said most fishing could be halted by next week to protect weaker coho salmon stocks.

One stock that returned weaker than was hoped was the Cultus Lake sockeye, where fewer than 300 fish have come back. “That’s definitely a concern,” Lapointe said.

WHO CAUGHT THE FISH? | Create Infographics

Just Posted

Satwinder Bains of Abbotsford is the recipient of the 2021 aculty Service Excellence Award from University of the Fraser Valley. (UFV photo)
Satwinder Bains receives UFV Faculty Service Excellence Award

Bains has guided South Asian Studies Institute as director since 2006

The City of Abbotsford has prepared a draft Urban Forest Strategy that is now headed to public consulation.
Draft plan adopted for managing Abbotsford’s urban forests over next 25 years

Urban Forest Strategy now heads to public-consultation process

Country music star Chris Lane stops in Abbotsford next February. (Submitted)
Country music star Chris Lane coming to Abbotsford

Multi-platinum artist bringing ‘Fill Them Boots’ to Abbotsford Centre on Feb. 19, 2022

The Abbotsford International Airshow is back for 2021 with the ‘SkyDrive’ concept.
Abbotsford International Airshow returns for 2021 with ‘SkyDrive’

New format features a drive-in movie type experience, show set for Aug. 6 to 8

The intersection of Blueridge Drive and Blue Jay Street is one of three intersections in Abbotsford approved for traffic lights this year. (Google Street View)
Traffic signals approved at 3 Abbotsford intersections

Projects part of $1.45M in road upgrades around community

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir stands outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School after speaking to reporters, in Kamloops, B.C., on Friday, June 4, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Kamloops chief says more unmarked graves will be found across Canada

Chief Rosanne Casimir told a virtual news conference the nation expects to release a report at the end of June

A woman wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. ranks among highest in world in COVID-19 first-dose shots: health officials

More than 76% of eligible people have received their 1st shot

A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)
Online resource blends B.C.-Alberta’s Indigenous languages, art and culture

Advisor says initiative supports the urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages

An artists conception of the new terminal building at the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport.
Air travel taking off in B.C., but lack of traffic controllers a sky-high concern

There will be demand for more air traffic controllers: Miller

Canadian Armed Forces experts are on their way to North Vancouver after a local homeowner expressed worry about a military artifact he recently purchased. (Twitter DNV Fire and Rescue)
Military called in to deal with antique ‘shell’ at North Vancouver home

‘The person somehow purchased a bombshell innocently believing it was an out-of-commission military artifact’

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz have set their wedding date for February, hoping that more COVID-19 restrictions will have lifted. (The Macleans)
B.C. couples ‘gambling’ on whether COVID rules will let them dance at their wedding

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz pushed back their wedding in hopes of being able to celebrate it without the constraints of COVID-19

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read