British Columbia

Practice of fishing unknown stocks of marine salmon raises concern over sockeye run

Millions of sockeye salmon are expected to head up B.C. rivers to spawn this month, but a fisheries adviser is raising concerns about whether the predicted number of fish will show up.

Consultant says commercial fishing methods have to change — now

Greg Taylor says estimates of sockeye salmon stock vary widely and won't be known until the seasonal migration is over. (Gary Stewart/Associated Press)

Millions of sockeye salmon are expected to head up B.C. rivers to spawn this month, but a fisheries adviser is raising concerns about whether the predicted number of fish will show up.

This year is supposed to be a dominant year in the four-year salmon cycle, when significant returns are expected.

But a lack of certainty over the numbers of sockeye in the sea means overfishing is likely, says Greg Taylor, a private consultant and adviser for the Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

"We're probably going to, after the season, find out that we've overfished in the marine environment," Taylor said.

Earlier this year, Fisheries and Oceans Canada forecast a return of 14 million sockeye to the Fraser River, but the numbers could be as low as 5.3 million, it said.

The Adams River sockeye run is one of the largest in the world. (Clive Bryson)

'Don't know what is going to show up'

Only time will tell how badly the stocks have dwindled, Taylor said.  

"That kind of uncertainty means that we really don't know what is going to show up … We don't know how many are going to come back to spawn."

Fishing itself is not the only issue. 

Unusually warm waters have led to higher pre-spawn mortality and low sockeye survival, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 

Changes in fishing

But Taylor says commercial fishing methods have to change — now.

"Look back to our First Nations, who have been managing these fisheries for tens of thousands of years: They fished what are called known stock fisheries — that is, they fished on identified surpluses," he explained.

Today, fishing is done from a stock "whose relative abundance we can only guess at" further out in the marine environment, Taylor said.

He's pushing for this to change and for fishing to be done from known stock instead.

"We need to be more precautionary," he said. "The way we've done business since 1880 isn't going to stand up to the future and we need to look to the past to do it differently."

Hundreds of thousands of wild sockeye salmon are expected to spawn up the Adams River in Interior B.C. this month but a fisheries adviser is raising concerns about whether the predicted number of fish will show up. 5:36

With files from Daybreak Kamloops

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