Soaring temperatures and low river levels have landed salmon in hot water.
As there is no indication conditions will improve any time soon, a ban on salmon fishing imposed last week remains in effect for the foreseeable future.
“There’s no doubt that, with the sustained high temperatures and drought for quite a number of weeks, we need to take a cautious approach,” said Stu Cartwright, acting area director of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans for the B.C. Interior.
“We’ve had some days in between where there’s been a reprieve, but temperatures are well above normal for this time of year and water levels are well below normal in most systems this year.”
A graph on the BC River Forecast Centre website shows the streamflow on the Shuswap River near Enderby on July 22 was 45 cubic metres per second – the lowest in records that date back to 1911.
River Centre hydrologist Tobi Gardner says the river is very low for this time of year and that the Shuswap River is included in a low streamflow advisory announced last week.
The land is also extremely dry and in a drought level 4.
“Without a fair bit of rain, we don’t see conditions improving anytime soon,” he says, calling for better water conservation efforts.
Cartwright meanwhile, says officials are closely monitoring environmental conditions in the Southern Interior as the adult salmon migration is already underway and there are always juveniles in the system.
It’s not just this year’s spawners that are at risk, but the future of the entire resource, Cartwright reminds.
“We’re closely monitoring conditions and taking a very cautious management approach, as has the province,” he says, noting Victoria had declared drought levels of three or four, depending on the area, with four being the highest level.
All salmon fishing in the Shuswap and the Thompson-Okanagan has been suspended.
“There are no salmon fisheries open,” says Cartwright, pointing out the decision to close the salmon fishery was made by DFO, B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and members of the local sport fishery group.
Officials are working with First Nations regarding social and ceremonial rights-based fishery.
“They’re still ongoing but they’re chinook-directed, with selective gear,” says Cartwright, noting only dip nets are permitted on the Fraser River fishery so any sockeye caught in the nets can be easily released.
In the case of a major event such as a death, DFO will consider granting a First Nations ceremonial licence.
But requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis and would be for a limited catch of just a few salmon.
Some early summer sockeye stocks are on the way to Shuswap spawning grounds, but Cartwright says it looks like there is a delay in the run.
“It’s too preliminary to tell why, but some are showing up in marine test fisheries off the Coast,” he says. “Based on historical data, the timing appears to be two to four days late.”
He says the early sockeye run will be better understood in early August after the peak migration is through the marine areas.
The summer sockeye run is not far behind the early summers. They are already showing up in offshore test fisheries but, at 25 percent, are a very small component.
Yesterday morning, Cartwright said that due to a forecast for another long spell of hot, dry weather, the salmon fishery remains closed indefinitely.