Low sockeye returns anticipated in 2017

Returns may be well below the requirements for Aboriginal fishing.

While the Skeena recreational fishery closes Sept. 15, 2016, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is already looking into next year’s sockeye returns.

Colin Masson, DFO’s area director for the north coast, said next year will be the last year of sockeye’s four-year cycle, and that this generally means poor returns. In addition, he said the fact that very few jack salmon were seen through the fence this year is another clear indication that low returns can be expected in 2017.

“There’s a lot of discussion already starting to occur,” said Masson.

The main concern is that the returns will likely be below the requirements that would allow for Aboriginal fishing.

“We’re going to need to work with all of the First Nations in the Skeena to start to develop a sharing plan because the return may well be below the requirement for food, social or ceremonial purposes.”

According to the DFO, this year’s Skeena sockeye returns have been slightly late, but not substantially.

As of Friday, Sept. 9, 804,000 sockeye had reached the Fort Babine fence. The total expected return to Babine Lake this year is between 900,000 and one million sockeye.

“The sockeye is a little bit late, but still, we’re not too far off the projections at this point,” said Masson.

The current Skeena sockeye escapement estimate, which varies throughout the year, is at 1.47 million – slightly greater than the pre-season estimate of 1.2 million sockeye.