'Gorgeous fish': Steveston fishery workers haul in sockeye salmon bounty

Trung Nguyen and other commercial fishery workers returned to the Richmond harbour Thursday with coolers full of salmon after being allowed out on the Fraser River Wednesday to catch salmon.

Years like this are exceptional, and fishery workers say they are hurting

A selection of sockeye salmon on offer at Steveston Harbour Thursday. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Trung Nguyen, selling sockeye off his boat at the Steveston Pier for $8 a pound, has been waiting four years for this moment.

Nguyen and other commercial fishery workers returned to the Richmond harbour Thursday with coolers full of salmon after being allowed out on the Fraser River Wednesday to catch salmon.

The 2018 run is expected to be the biggest since 2014 and fishery workers had 24 hours to take advantage of the bounty.

Strong runs come in four-year cycles and this year's could eclipse 20 million fish.

"Nice and firm. Gorgeous fish," Nguyen said, showing a potential buyer an example of his haul. "We haven't had an opening for four years, so this is a big year."

Trung Nguyen says he's hoping there will be another opening for commercial fishery workers next week. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

For Nguyen and others, it's a hopeful day.

"It's amazing," he said. "You get to see old friends. You get to see guys you really haven't seen in a while."

Bittersweet

John Wayne, a member of Musqueam Indian Band, was filled with optimism after being out in the water and seeing an "overwhelming" number of fish.

He thinks it might be the most successful season he's ever had and the catch could lead to financial opportunities.

"The fish are a little bit slow, but they're here and there's a significant amount of fish that went past [the boats]," Wayne said.

But Wayne becomes upset when talking about how years like this are exceptional.

He blames government mismanagement and fish farming for the decline in the commercial fishery.

"It's ruining the lives of many people, not just the First Nations," he said. 

Fisherman John Wayne leans up next to his boat moored at Steveston Harbour. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Another opening?

Shawn Hall, spokesperson for the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, said there's no evidence salmon farming is to blame for declining numbers of salmon.

"Farms play a critical role in protecting wild salmon stocks from overfishing by providing an alternate, sustainable supply," Hall said. "We're just as passionate about wild salmon as other British Columbians."

There are other reasons to worry this run may face additional threats.

The Fraser is about 2.5 C warmer than usual — hot enough to hurt migrating salmon.

But Nguyen said he's hoping the good numbers witnessed Wednesday could lead to another opening next week — and another chance to fish.

With files from Jesse Johnston