By Roy L Hales
Aside from the incredible run of 2010, reports of the Fraser River’s sockeye salmon tend to be glum. I believe there is only one Cortes Island based fisherman still working the Johnston strait and recently learned this is the second year he did not receive an opening to fish sockeye. Though the culprits were last year’s drought and a culvert (close to my home), most of the chum returning to Basil Creek in 2015 were killed before they could spawn. These were just a few of the stories that prompted me to seek out evidences of the impending demise of what was previously one of our province’s leading industries. Instead, I found good news about BC’s fishing runs.
Good News About BC’s Fishing Runs
Given the current controversy about fish farms, it should be no surprise that I reached out to Ian Roberts of Marine Harvest Canada.
“I think everyone agrees there has been a decline in the numbers of Fraser River sockeye since the 1990’s. Then all of a sudden you get a 2010 which confuses everybody. How does everything all of a sudden line up perfectly and you get 30 million salmon returning? It was beyond anything on record for the past 100 years,” he said.
Roberts believes that while specific runs may be down, the overall catch of wild salmon is only increasing.
A spokesperson from the Department of Fisheries explained:
“When it comes to analyzing any salmon run, particularly sockeye, it is best to look at possible trends over 8 or 12 years, rather than just a few years. Sockeye, for example, have a four year lifecycle, therefore a person cannot compare last year to this year. 2014 was the last big year for sockeye returns. The next big year will be 2018.
“Pink salmon numbers are generally high in even years. In 2014, for example, there was the largest return of pinks to the Quinsam ever. There were approximately 1.8 million or so. Returns this year are pretty good from reports that we have heard. Not record-setting though like in 2014.”
Overall Snapshot of Fish Returns
She pointed me to a report that contained an overall snapshot of fish recent & anticipated returns:
- “The 2014-15 anomalously warm “Blob” in the North Pacific Ocean did not induce widespread salmon recruitment failures in 2015 due to common ocean effects as some feared but, as anticipated (Hyatt et al. 2014), did influence return timing, straying rates and size-at-age traits of many salmon populations originating from eastern Pacific waters from south-central Alaska, through B.C., Washington and Oregon.
- “2015 returns were above average for many, but not all, salmon stocks (e.g. Okanagan sockeye were far above average and Barkley Sound sockeye achieved a new record return of 2.1 million fish but returns of Fraser Sockeye and Pinks were half of that expected in 2015).
- “Impacts of a warmer than average ocean in 2014-2015 followed by an El Niño in spring 2016 suggest survival unfavourable conditions for juvenile salmon making sea entry from the B.C. central to south coast in those years so significant reductions in returns to many populations (Okanagan-Columbia River salmon; Barkley and west coast Vancouver Island salmon) may be expected in 2016-2018.” 
Look At The Runs That Are Doing Well
“It’s probably best not to look at the runs that are doing poorly, but at the runs that are doing well and figure out why that is happening,” said Roberts.
He pointed to two examples. There were virtually no fish returning to the Oyster River, near Campbell River, up until 1984. That changed after they started doing rehabilitation work to the stream. The number of pink salmon returning to the Tsolum River, in Courtenay, has undergone a similar transformation. Roberts believes this is a direct result of the Tsolum River Restoration Society’s work.
He added, “It is my personal opinion that incubation is most vital to salmon survival. There are obviously marine conditions which are important, but if you take care of the crib, which is the river, it sure gives that salmon a good start.”
-  Roy L Hales interview with Thea Block, daughter of said fisherman.
-  Roy L Hales interview with Ian Roberts of Marine Harvest Canada.
-  email from a Communications Advisor, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
-  . Peter C. Chandler et al, State of the Physical, Biological and Selected Fishery Resources of Pacific Canadian Marine Ecosystems in 2015, Fisheries & Oceans Canada, 22.1.