The summer of 2022 is shaping up to be a bumper season for pink and sockeye salmon in B.C. rivers, with a seasoned Indigenous fisherman reporting the biggest catches of sockeye salmon in decades.
Mitch Dudoward has worked in the salmon industry for over 40 years and says fishing on the Skeena River in northwestern British Columbia has never been better.
“It’s been the best season I can remember in my life with the numbers we’re catching,” said Dudoward, who recently completed a big sockeye haul aboard his gillnetter Irenda.
Meanwhile, Bob Chamberlin, president of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance, said thousands of pink salmon were in Central Coast rivers after years of minimal returns.
The surge comes two years after the closure of two open-net Atlantic salmon farms in the region.
“We had targeted those farms,” said Chamberlin, whose group wants open-net farms removed from B.C. waters.
“We took them out and two years later we went from having 200 fish in the river to several thousand today. In our minds and knowledge, this is a very clear indicator.”
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) spokeswoman Lara Sloan said the department’s sightings indicated significant returns of sockeye salmon to the Skeena River.
“Test fisheries currently indicate that Skeena sockeye returns are at the high end of expectations, with an in-season estimate of around four million sockeye,” Sloan said in a statement. Colombia, Washington and Alaska return better than expected in 2022.”
The five-year average return of sockeye salmon in the Skeena is 1.4 million and the 10-year average is 1.7 million, Sloan said.
Dudoward said Skeena’s sockeye season ended this week, but could have lasted longer.
“We should be fishing until the end of August when the sockeye salmon stop flowing,” he said. “There’s a lot to take.”
But Sloan said DFO is watching salmon stocks.
“For 2022, the department is taking a more precautionary approach to managing commercial fishing impacts on stocks of conservation concern, including small populations of wild sockeye salmon, chum and rainbow trout returning to the Skeena River. “, she said.
DFO also expects a large run of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River this summer, but returns of chinook, coho and chum salmon to rivers and streams on the north and central coast are expected to be weak.
“The forecast range for Fraser River sockeye in 2022 is 2.3 million to 41.7 million, with a median forecast of 9.7 million,” Sloan said. “The median forecast means there is a 50% chance that returns will fall below this level. ”
That’s well above the estimated 2.5 million sockeye salmon returns in 2021, according to data from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
The future of net farming in question
The high yields come amid a debate over the future of salmon net farming in British Columbia waters.
In 2018, the BC government, First Nations and the salmon farming industry reached an agreement to phase out 17 open net farms in the Broughton Archipelago between 2019 and 2023.
The agreement was negotiated to establish a farm-free migration corridor to help reduce harm to wild salmon.
In June, federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray said the government would consult with First Nations communities and salmon farm operators in the Discovery Islands, which lie between the mainland and northeastern Vancouver Island, about the future of net farming in the region.
A final decision on the future of the farms is expected in January 2023, the minister said.
“It’s such an important migratory route for all Fraser River salmon, especially coho and chinook,” Chamberlin said. “If we’re going to see the return of the Fraser runs, we need to see the barriers removed.”