This is a note from “Watershed Talk” a weekly update from the Fraser River Aboriginal Fisheries Secretariat (FRAFS).
It is prepared by technical staff to provide updates to folks throughout the watershed. Here’s the note on the recent decision by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to open commercial fisheries on Fraser Sockeye — specifically on one of the four “groups” of sockeye.
EARLY SUMMER RUN SOCKEYE
The Fraser River Panel has confirmed that the Early Summer Run stock group is returning in numbers much greater than the preseason forecast (783,000). At the time of writing this (Friday August 6) the Pacific Salmon Commission has recommended to the Fraser Panel to set an in-season run size estimate of 1,600,000 fish for this group.
This season the Department has heard the serious concerns about population levels for the “Early Miscellaneous” stocks of Early Summer Run sockeye. These stocks include the Bowron [east of Prince George], Nadina [far upper reaches of Fraser River soueast of Houston, BC], and Taseko [west of Williams Lake] sockeye. The Department is trying to actively manage these stocks to avoid exceeding an Exploitation Rate (ER) limit of 25%. [set in pre-season planning to protect vulnerable stocks within this group]
It remains to be seen if they will be successful; current estimates put the ER at or very close to the 25% ER limit now. The rather aggressive fishery openings that have been and will be occurring may end up exceeding the 25% ER level as some fi sh from these stocks are still showing in marine areas as commercial fi sheries get underway.
Also, predictions continue to be made that in-river temperatures may exceed 20 degrees C over the next little while. If this occurs, the Management Adjustment (MA) for the entire Early Summer Run aggregate would be significantly increased, meaning that available harvestable surplus (Total Allowable Catch, or TAC) may be reduced significantly to allow for high en route and pre-spawning mortality as well as sufficient fish for the spawning grounds.
Because of multiple uncertainties (temperature/flow conditions, and run timing) managers are being warned that the MA may be as high as 0.9, meaning that almost half of the numbers entering the Fraser could die before spawning. If this does indeed happen it is conceivable that spawning escapement targets for Early Summer Run stocks might not be met despite the increased abundance of these fish – given that fisheries have been opened in an optimistic manner despite the weather and water temperature outlooks.
And better yet, DFO decided to open even more fisheries on Fraser Sockeye in the last few days. Some improved run size forecasts and all of a sudden it’s “go time”…
This despite the fact that the Fraser River is running temperatures over 19 degrees C and even the Pacific Salmon Commission press release from yesterday (Aug. 6) states: