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DFO uses cautious management despite above-average sockeye return on Skeena

4.3 million sockeye expected this year
A sockeye salmon spawns in a B.C. river. A DFO spokesperson stated that the regulations limiting commercial sockeye harvest are in place to protect wild Skeena stocks. (Photo: Ivan Hardwick)

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is taking a more precautionary approach to manage the commercial sockeye fishery in 2022, the organization stated on August 10.

The 2022 sockeye return on the Skeena River is estimated to be 4.3 million, more than three times the five-year average between 2017 and 2021, which was 1.4 million.

Still, the DFO has put additional measures to limit the number of sockeye commercial fishermen can harvest, including requiring gillnet fisheries to use shorter nets and sets. They also set a predetermined end date for seine and gillnet fisheries in early August, DFO spokesperson Lara Sloan wrote in an email.

The United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union (UFAWU-Unifor) spoke out about these restrictions, frustrated they were being restricted when there was such a bountiful return.

“It’s not just a closure. They got us started a month late, so now there’s over three million fish going to go to waste in Babine Lake because we don’t have the catching capacity to slow them down,” Calvin Siider, UFAWU-Unifor member said, on Aug. 8.

The DFO stated that the additional measures are to protect wild sockeye populations, which they are concerned about.

As explained in the Northern Salmon Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP), the largest producers of sockeye salmon in the Skeena River are enhanced fish returning to the Fulton River and Pinkut Creek.

However, wild stocks, which are distinguished from enhanced stocks because they originate in naturally-occurring streams, are not as productive and cannot withstand the same exploitation rate as the enhanced fish.

The Northern IFMP is focused on three wild sockeye stocks in the Skeena: the Nanika-Morice, Kitwanga and Babine River.

In the ocean, the wild stocks cannot be separated from the enhanced stocks, so fishermen cannot selectively harvest the more prolific enhanced sockeye. The DFO stated that this is why there are regulations in place despite a large run.

Sockeye returning to the Skeena river this year first entered the ocean during the end of a marine heatwave and have been fortunate to experience cooler temperatures beginning in the second half of 2020, Sloan stated. These cooler temperatures are more favourable for the growth and survival of salmon, which may have contributed to the more prolific run this year.

READ MORE: Commercial fishermen’s union ‘deeply troubled’ with DFO’s decision to close Prince Rupert sockeye fishery

READ MORE: Prince Rupert fisherman frustrated by DFO salmon limits he says, despite millions of fish

 Kaitlyn Bailey | Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
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