Many factors affect sockeye run

Return: Estimates for sockeye returns range from 1.3 million to 11.7 million fish heading for the Adams River spawning grounds. An average dominant year would see approximately 2.8 million spawning sockeye in the river. - File photo
Return: Estimates for sockeye returns range from 1.3 million to 11.7 million fish heading for the Adams River spawning grounds. An average dominant year would see approximately 2.8 million spawning sockeye in the river.
— image credit: File photo

Sockeye salmon are expected to arrive at their Adams River spawning grounds in the millions this fall.

While he recommends extreme caution in trying to establish even ballpark figures at this time, Stu Cartwright, acting area director of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans for the B.C. Interior, says estimates for the entire Fraser River run anywhere from seven million to 72 million.

Zeroing in on the Adams River, Cartwright says pre-season forecasts suggest there could be anywhere from 1.3 or 1.4 million spawners up to as many as 11.7 million.

“Those numbers are out there, but I’d be really cautious knowing the variables that exist in trying to predict returning salmon,” said Cartwright last Thursday.

Given that the brood year was just under eight million sockeye in the last dominant run four years ago, the numbers could be high.

But Cartwright says typically the average dominant year sees the return of about 2.8 million spawning sockeye to the Adams River.

“Even if we got half that at 4.4 million, that’s still more than double the normal brood year,” he says. “The range comes out of all the various options DFO considers based on brood stock, which in this case was 2010, when it fell so far outside of the historic range.”

Early summer sockeye that returned to spawn in Scotch Creek and the Seymour River totalled 500,000 in 2010.

Forecasts for this year range between 92,000 and 2.4 million, in a run that peaks in the last week of July and first week of August.

“If you go conservative mid-range, you’re looking at 540,000,” Cartwright says. “Again we’re cautiously optimistic that we’re going to see a strong return, not just to Scotch and Seymour but to Adams too.”

DFO’s plans to expand the sockeye fishery because of the large numbers estimated to travel the Fraser River this year are being criticized by the Lower Mainland organizations such as the Watershed Watch Salmon Society and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

They say sockeye from strong populations will be swimming along with those from depleted stocks, with the possibility of by-catch further jeopardizing weaker runs.

Coho returning to the Salmon River, where stocks have been struggling to rebound, could also be taken in the by-catch.

“Developed models are based on a number of factors which try to account for that range of fish,” Cartwright says. “If the strength of the run doesn’t materialize, fishing opportunities will be limited, which will reduce the effect of the by-catch on coho.”

Cartwright says conservation objectives are DFO’s highest priority when planning fisheries, but if there is a surplus, there is an obligation to provide fishing opportunities, with meeting First Nations food and social and ceremonial needs being the top priority.

Test fisheries to measure the strength of the various runs, beginning with the early sockeyes, have just begun in the Juan de Fuca Strait. One of the last to enter the Fraser River, Adams River sockeye don’t normally gather there until sometime in August.


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