Late August update.

I am conscious that it has been too long since the publication of my last blog. I offer no excuses other than to say I’ve been busy at the life of a fishing guide in August and spare time, feeling a little sparky and even slightly creative, has been non-existent. I really don’t like to write when I’m struggling to stay awake and know from past experience that the results don’t justify the attempt – methinks better nothing at all than text of low value.

So here goes, a few updates now that we’re well into the second half of August.

By now everyone who has any interest in Fraser sockeye has come to the realization that the return this year is very poor. However, by the August 19 report from the Fraser Panel, that section of the Pacific Salmon Commission actively engaged in the management of sockeye and pink salmon originating from the Fraser River, the language describing it is explicit and bleak – the lowest return in 100 years, with an assessed aggregate return of approximately 850,000 fish.

All four main run-timing groups are well below the 50% probability forecast but especially so for the summer run group that are coming in at about a quarter of this usual forecast level. The report notes the higher than expected percentage of 5 year old sockeye which would indicate that the 2012 broodyear, which went to sea in 2014, fell victim to the poor ocean conditions. Being open ocean migrants, the warm blob that dominated the northeast Pacific Ocean throughout 2014/15 likely did for millions of young sockeye.

There was some indication of this run failure by the less than expected return of Fraser pinks and very low return of Interior Fraser coho last year, salmon stocks that also went to sea in 2014, however the comparatively strong returns of sockeye this summer to both the Stamp/Somass and Columbia watersheds remains a puzzle in comparison the what has befallen Fraser sockeye this year.

Although not to the same extent as with Fraser sockeye a number of chinook stocks have so far returned below forecast, notably those fish bound for Nootka Sound. It will be interesting to see what the return of similar but later run-timing chinooks to the rivers further south on WCVI (e.g. Stamp & Nitnat) is, the first in-season assessments should be made soon.

Elsewhere on the west coast of Vancouver Island there’s an ongoing situation that is indicative of a less than expected abundance of chinooks, the continuing commercial troll fishery. In simple terms the chinook fishery by all fisheries outside the surfline along WCVI is ultimately managed under the terms of the Canada/US Pacific Salmon Treaty, with DFO as the domestic management agency sharing the treaty allowable catch (133,300 for 2016) amongst the various user groups. One overarching objective of this process is to ensure to the extent possible that the WCVI AABM (aggregate abundance-based management) annual allowable catch is achieved because a high percentage of the fish caught there are of US origin and represent an offset for the Canadian origin chinook caught in SE Alaska. As a Canadian I support this fully.

In theory the WCVI AABM fishery is open year round, with an annual official start date of October 1 (keyed to the chinook life history) although in practice because of weather catches are low until April at the earliest. After a deduction is made for the anticipated First Nations food fishery requirements DFO next makes a calculation on the expected recreational need based on a rolling average of the past five years, approximately 60,000 in recent seasons. Any remaining chinooks are then allocated to commercial fishermen, the Area G trollers and in recent years the T’aaq-wiihak Nations fishery.

The trollers usually harvest a large portion of their expected annual catch in the April/May/early June period, hope to get an opportunity in mid-summer for a smaller catch, with any remaining chinook fishing scheduled for the second half of September and to be completed before the new chinook fishing year starts. Because under the Salmon Allocation Policy the recreational fishery has priority access to chinook before commercial opportunity the trollers ordinarily don’t fish much in the summer and usually catch their relatively small mid-summer allowable catch (typically 10-20,000 fish) in a few days, with relatively little impact on meaningful recreational opportunity.

But, as another indication of how 2016 is going, not this year. The trollers opened August 6 with a TAC of 12,000 fish, a number that ordinarily would be caught quickly. Fishing proved slower than expected and shortly thereafter, having reviewed the outside recreational catch for July, DFO transferred 8,000 theoretically uncaught chinook to the trollers, upping their TAC to 20,000. There doesn’t appear to have been a big surge of chinooks down the outside as the month has progressed and as of the latest update on August 25 they had caught approximately 8,000 chinooks; at this rate they’ll be out there for the rest of the summer.

You likely don’t have to have fished alongside trollers to appreciate that their day in, day out presence on the fishing grounds lowers the recreational success rate and I am reasonably certain that at least in part because of this the outside recreational chinook catch for August will be less than expected, quite likely resulting in yet another transfer of fish to the commercial fishery for September. As a Canadian angler I’m conflicted between what I perceive as a lessening of the recreational priority access to chinook and achieving a fisheries objective in the best interests of the country. You can bet Alaska will have taken every last chinook it is entitled to under the treaty, most of which originate from elsewhere with many from Canada!

This situation on the outside edge of our salmon fishing area took a little longer than I expected to explain but is a big picture indication of the less than expected chinook abundance in southern BC.

In my hometown of Campbell River the month of August has proved a challenging one for the traditional Tyee Club fishery (www.tyeeclub.org), with only three registered fish (30 + pounds) landed to date; approximately 30 smaller fish are thought to have been caught. It may be that the chinooks are holding elsewhere with the fishing in front and south of town somewhat better. Anglers from the fishing pier are having a most successful summer and judging by the effort starting on the boundary at Hidden Harbor where the special management zone regulations end those anglers too must be having considerable success, good for them.