bc-100825-sockeye-dock

Sockeye await processing on the Steveston docks in Richmond, B.C. ((CBC))

The estimate for the sockeye salmon return to B.C.'s Fraser River has been increased again, with the run expected to reach 34 million fish.

The latest estimate, made Tuesday, comes from the Pacific Salmon Commission, the federal body responsible for the fish count.

The commission's Fraser River Panel, which meets twice a week at this time of year, last raised the run estimate on Friday to 30 million sockeye from 25 million.

It's the largest return to the Fraser since 1913, and a dramatic turnaround from figures so low last year that fisheries were completely closed.

A judicial inquiry, the Cohen Commission, starts hearings in September to determine why the 2009 run was so small. It had been forecast at about 11 million fish, but only about 1.5 million came back.

An issue being debated this year concerns how many of the lucrative fish should be caught.

Impact could be damaging

The federal Department of Fisheries says it wants to balance ecology and sustain smaller stocks while allowing commercial and recreational fisheries.

But the impact of those millions of fish clogging rivers and lakes could be damaging if more salmon aren't caught, University of British Columbia fisheries scientist Carl Walters said Tuesday.

Walters, who's been studying West Coast salmon for decades, said his research shows the government has historically allowed millions of dollars in catch go to waste by being too conservative with quotas.